One artist was born in the French countryside in the early 1900s; the other was raised in a Kyoto mountain village more than a half century later. André Bauchant (1873-1958) and Ryuji Foujita (1928-2002) both grew up surrounded by nature, a subject they reflected in the vibrant colors and textures of their paintings. Their work is now shown together in Pastoral Redemption, Glimpses of Perfection: André Bauchant + Foujita Ryuji at Tokyo Station Gallery. The show is split into two parts: the first runs until May 29th, the second from May 31st to July 10th. Some of the 114 pieces displayed will be changed between parts 1 and 2. Tickets are available online.
As the son of a gardener, Bauchant was brought up from childhood to have a green thumb. At 14 years old, he left school and helped in his father’s horticultural business. He later started his own garden nursery. Foujita grew up in a comparably verdant setting, surrounded by rolling mountains. Like Bauchant he also quit school, dropping out of Doshisha University’s engineering department without completing his degree. He then attended the Osaka Municipal Institute of Art, where he took up training in drawing and oil painting.
Bauchant fought in World War I from the age of 41. Meanwhile, his nursery back home languished after his wife became mentally ill and his father-in-law passed away. One misfortune after the other kept him isolated at a local farm while taking care of his wife. Foujita, for his part, was no stranger to challenges himself. At the age of 48, he was diagnosed with cerebral thrombosis and he suffered another stroke a year later. He developed a speech disorder and was paralyzed on the right side of his body, immobilizing his dominant hand.
Bauchant and Foujita both faced bitter struggles in life, but this did not stop them from picking up their brushes and filling their canvases with color and light. Bauchant painted imagery reminiscent of his hometown – mountains, rivers, meadows, flowers. He often depicted these motifs in a classical tone, evoking medieval paintings. The art historian Nadine Pouillon has compared Bauchant’s use of unglazed colors to the Italian frescoes of the 15th century and his color sense to that of the Italian Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone.
In an Exotic Garden (1950) brims with shades of green and trees canopying over people. Bauchant slightly exaggerates the scale of the bushes and leaves to emphasize the jungle-like atmosphere. Compare this work with Foujita’s Shallow Dreams (Venturer) (1985). While both paintings are layered with green hues, Foujita’s mountain ranges appear more stylized and have a more abstract resonance. These peaks often surface in his works as a symbol of his hometown in the Kii Mountains. The male figure in the center is said to represent someone – much like himself – who left his family behind and gradually grew old as a painter.
One of Bauchant’s most enchanting floral works is Vase of Flowers by the River (1946), which demonstrates his distinct penchant for vivid colors. The dazzling flowers in the foreground and the mountains in the distance are painted in the same manner, almost void of blur or haze. Foujita’s late work At the Window (2000) is similarly dominated by flowers in front with a green hill behind.
A delightful revelation in Foujita’s paintings is the presence of repeating motifs: a girl with a pointed hat, a railroad, a meandering road, a white Kishu dog. Said to stand in for the artist’s alter ego, the canine sometimes appears lost or pitiful. It is seen either walking, sitting, or lying down on a winding road, as if tracing Foujita’s difficult paths in his life. It can be found in works such as An Old Tree Remains (1987), Public Lavatory (1989), Parade of Chimneys (1991), and Quiet Town (1997).
Finally, here are Bauchant’s Charlatan of Tours Touting His Potions (1944) and Foujita’s Even the School of Theology Takes a Winter Break (1993). Both are interpretations of real places: Tours, France and Kyoto (specifically the Doshisha University campus). Bauchant renders the buildings of Tours stylistically, but the town square itself is accurate in its arrangement. Foujita, on the other hand, faithfully portrays the details of campus buildings, but repositions them freely. It is a pleasure to compare and contrast the works of these two artists who, while having lived oceans apart, both brought us closer to humanity and nature.