The Inaugural Exhibition: Tsuguharu Foujita

For the Valentine Gallery's inaugural exhibition, Dudensing presented the recent paintings and drawings of Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) in what would be the artist's first one-man show in the U.S. At that time in early 1926, Foujita's work was the rage in Paris where the artist had lived since 1913. Befriended by the School of Paris painters and with his works accepted by the annual Salons since 1919, Foujita was known as "the Japanese Ingres" because of the distinct flat white he used in painting his figures. His submission to the 1923 spring Salon at the Grand Palais in Paris entitled En famille -- a watercolor that he varnished and then rubbed with pumice stone -- caused a sensation and made headlines when it was deemed the best work in the show. By the Salon d'Automne of the following year, Foujita's paintings drew crowds.

The F. Valentine Dudensing Gallery exhibition opened on February 8, 1926. No checklist survives but there was copious press attention to Dudensing's new gallery and to his partnership with Pierre Matisse who organized the exhibition. Reviewers noted a number of the works; this information helps in the reconstruction of the exhibition: "graceful nudes in boudoir settings"; "two women reclining on a beach"; Le pot à tabac ("the only still life"); "drawings of French street scenes"; Panneaux decoratifs, described as a screen with "clowns perching precariously on a pile of blocks" against a silver- and gold-leaf background; Les enfants; Les enfants aux chats; and, of course, the cats for which Foujita is probably best known. The only work that has been identified with certainty is Deésse de la neige of 1924a painting over six feet in length of a nude reclining with abandon -- undoubtedly a highlight of the exhibition. 

Dudensing sold Deésse de la neige to Carl Weeks, a collector from Des Moines, Iowa. He had been one of Dudensing's clients when the dealer worked as a salesman at his father's gallery, Richard Dudensing & Son. Weeks made a fortune through his cosmetics company -- the Armand Company -- and in 1926 was in the process of building his residence, Salisbury House, a grand manor house that he planned to fill with his extensive art collection. The sale of this Foujita painting exemplifies Dudensing's skill as an art dealer: he sold a masterpiece by an artist reputed for depicting his subjects with porcelain skin to a collector whose company's best-selling product, Armand's Cold Cream Powder, was the leading face powder in the U.S. 

Weeks's son, E. D. Weeks, presented the painting to the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1974.


Special thanks to Jessica Ficken, Curatorial Assistant for the Collection, Harvard Art Museums, for her generous assistance with my research of the Fogg's painting.