Beware of cats Foujita (1886-1968). The general public enjoys them because they are cute, mischievous. But they sometimes écharpent furiously. In Battle cat (1940), this bound such experts in martial arts, all claws and fangs out. They are premonitory.

On the background ink that has already so well served the nudes executed in Paris during the roaring twenties – beautiful redheads with milky skin hung a few steps before -, this melee of fourteen cats, grey, white, black, or entwined with tiger opens with disasters dantesque that follow. They are spread in two major formats: Dead heroic on the island of Attu (1943) and Our brothers of Saipan, faithful until death (1945). Such works had never been seen in Europe. And for good reason. These are works of propaganda.

In tones of brown, they exalt the sacrifice of the troops and the martyrdom of the population. To the satisfaction of the generals of the empire who have ordered these pictures of bombing raids and body-to-body with bayonets and swords are seen everywhere in the Archipelago, the soldier Foujita was inspired by the Raft of The Medusa and Scenes from the massacres at Chios . He wants to Géricault or Delacroix of a country that suffers but does not break.

The black years

It is estimated that two million Japanese have seen these paintings in these months prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For them it was often the only source of information about what was happening on the front. “There was crying in the light, or we prayed in front of for the rest of the dead”, tells the House of culture of Japan, the art historian Yôko Hayashi, commissioner with Sophie Krebs of the Museum of modern art of the City of Paris for this exhibition exciting, which comes to close in beauty the season “Japonismes”.

the Victors, the Americans will order Foujita to collect these works, which were useful to the former company martial. And then, as punishment, the confisqueront. It was not until 1970 that they came back to Tokyo. They have been the subject of a “permanent repository” at the National Museum of Modern Art. This institution maintains fourteen Foujita years black. Even on site they are not visible and are only seriously studied only since 1995.

as a member of the imperial Academy of arts during the conflict, and the son of a general in death in 1941, Foujita was accused of war crimes and put away artistic circles of japanese. He has not been formally exonerated in 1947. In the catalogue of the exhibition, the director of the museum of Ibaraki, Masaaki Ozaki, reminds us that, for he has “crossed the red line”. But “only the officials could issue material to paint, nuance and Yôko Hayashi. And of course, we were punished with death if we did not obey.”

Whatever he was, when Foujita returned to France, he had to rebuild a career and rebuild itself. His conversion to catholicism, the erection of a chapel in Reims, and his painting Adoration (1962-1963) sound like an atonement.

“Foujita, works of a life (1886-1968)”, House of culture of Japan, 101 bis, quai Branly (Xv). Tel.: 01 44 37 95 01. Opening hours: mar. at the sam. from 12 h to 20 h. Until 16 march. Catalog: Gourcuff, 175 p., 20 €.