Foujita’s chapel, Reims. Foujita said he wanted his nativity scene to represent peace so he left out all the men.
A visit to Reims is crowned by a visit to Foujita’s chapel. The Japanese artist, Leonard Tsuguhara Foujita(1886-1968) spent most of his life in France, applying Japanese ink techniques to Western style painting. He created the small Romanesque Notre Dame de la Paix after conversion to Catholicism in Reims after becoming great friends with René Lalou, the head of the Mumm champagne house. (The chapel is in the Mumm grounds.) Foujita covered the interior in delicate frescoes over a period of 3 months at the age of 80, completing the work in 1966 not long before he died.
It is a very personal, moving artwork, depicting the life of Christ but with Foujita’s own idiosyncratic notes. There are stained glass windows representing Nagasaki and Hiroshima, recalling his time in Japan during the war. His representation of the Ark includes himself, his wife and Leonardo da Vinci. In the apse above the altar is a nativity scene of characters worshipping the infant Jesus. They are all women and children (and include Foujita’s wife Kimoko). Foujita said he wanted his nativity scene to represent peace so he left out all the men.
His Last Supper includes a distinctly Oriental looking Jesus…below it the altar table above his grave is scattered with Origami doves of peace left by Japanese visitors. He has been called the most important Japanese artist working in the west during the 20th century. He was part of the Montparnasse group of artists in Paris which included Picasso, Soutine, Leger and Modigliani. Foujita was incredibly popular before the Second World War; his Book of Cats from 1930 is considered one of the most desirable books on cats ever published. In 2013 a huge family collection of Foujita’s works was donated to the ville de Reims which we hope to see exhibited in the near future.