Boy in a garden with a cat and a bird

Tsuguharu Foujita

Niño en un jardín con gato y pájaro

Foujita, Léonard Tsuguharu

Edogawa (Tokio), 1886 - Zúrich, 1968

Boy in a garden with a cat and a bird, 1918

© Foujita Foundation / VEGAP, 2018

Signed & dated lower right: "Foujita 1918".
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

Watercolor and ink on paper

42 x 52 x 0 cm

CTB.1999.157

Artwork history

  • Duke of Las Torres

  • Mr. Alfonso Rafael de Figueroa, Duke of Tovar

  • Private Collection, Madrid

  • Castellana Auctions, Madrid, Lot 192, November 1999.

  • Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

2022 - 2023

Made in Paris: La generación de Matisse, Lagar y Foujita. Museu Carmen Thyssen Andorra. P. 32-33, 100, 154-155.

  • -Made in Paris: La generación de Matisse, Lagar y Foujita. Museu Carmen Thyssen Andorra. [Exhib. Cat.], Ed. Fundació Museu Andorra (Museand),  Principado de Andorra, 2022, p. 32-33, 100, 154 y 155 [Sheet by  Guillermo Cervera]

Expert report

Commentary of the artwork:

Japanese painting reached Europe at the start of the 19th century with prints such as the representations of Mount Fuji by the Japanese artist Hokusai becoming a point of reference for the impressionists, postimpressionists, modernists and cubists. Artists like Manet, Courbet, Degas or Monet ·admired Japanese art and they allowed themselves to be influenced by its technique and aesthetics in what we would come to know as Orientalism. lt is hardly surprising then that the paintings of Foujita, who arrived in Paris in 1913, enjoyed so much success in the French capital. Foujita, also inspired by the work of Hokusai, was the most important Japanese artist to work in the west in the 20th century, where he generated a unique style that mixed the trends from the orient with those from the west.

Foujita employed the same meticulousness that he used when painting to describe the subject of his watercolour in the title that he gave it: child-garden-cat-bird. These elements, with their inherent Symbolism, subtly acquire their own space and prominence in the composition, within a whole dominated by a mystical atmosphere based on light sepia brushstrokes and fine black lines.

Sitting at the centre of the composition with his legs crossed, we see a naked child with pearly skin and a contemplative expression. The Japanese artist (who later became a French citizen) usually portrayed the bodies of women, sometimes imitating his Parisian contemporaries, However, Foujita’s oriental stamp on the naked bodies does not go unnoticed: this is what the painter referred to as milky white. In Japanese culture, white skin had been an ideal of beauty from the year 710 as a concept of beauty and nobility: clear skin reflected perfection. Women used cosmetics created using rice bran and ground pearl dust. Foujita’s used something similar as his secret formula to achieve the pearly white which he obtained from mother-of-pearl dust mixed with other ingredients. In Child in a Garden with a Cat and a Bird, the paleness of the child’s skin symbolizes purity and youth. The apple, interpreted independently, might be associated with the innocence of childhood as a symbol of life. The cat, an animal much loved by Foujita and constantly present in his work, was also the only protagonist in several creations of this eccentric painter. In this work, even though the cat is lying in front of the child, it appears to come to life with the expression that the painter gives to its eyes. Foujita, consciously or unconsciously, even humanizes it by giving it the whitish tone of the human body, a detail very similar to the child’s skin. The “garden” consists of four large plants and these contrast with the apparently arid terrain, which serves as a resource to frame the child. Lying in front of the larger of the plants, in the lower right-hand section, we see a bird with its back to the composition.

Foujita, a man of extravaqant appearance, was a paradigmatic artist and he drew more than 6,000 drawings of nudes that mixed western motifs with oriental techniques. With his innate talent in the application of china ink using Japanese paintbrushes and light layers of watercolour, he developed sublime compositions such as this one from the Carmen Thyssen Collection.

Guillermo Cervera