The Akita Prefectural Museum of Art also houses the Hirano Masakichi Museum of Fine Art which is the main draw for visitors, as this part of the museum displays a large collection of the paintings of Tsuguhara Fujita (aka Leonard or Leonardo Foujita or Tsuguohara Foujita) as well as other European masterpieces by Goya, Rubens, Rembrandt and Picasso.
The modern building, which opened in 1967, contains the unremarkable Akita Prefectural Museum of Art on the first floor. The upper two floors display the collections of Hirano Masakichi (1895-1989), an avid art collector and friend of the maverick, modernist artist Foujita.
The centerpiece of the work by Foujita on display is the huge Events of Akita which depicts the changing seasons and festivals in the prefecture and measures a staggering 3.65 x 20.5m - reputedly the world's largest canvas painting. A wall in Foujita's studio had to be removed to get the giant painting out.
Tokyo-born Tsuguhara Fujita (1886-1968) is one of Japan's greatest modern artists and lead a colorful, Bohemian life in Paris before World War II.
Settling in Montparnasse in 1913 he met and befriended such influential figures as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Man Ray and Isadora Duncan. In the 1930s Foujita made a successful tour of South America where his work was enthusiastically received. Foujita is particularly remembered for his female nudes and cat portraits.
Seemingly somewhat strangely for one who had enjoyed success and friendship in the West, Foujita became a fervent supporter of Japan's war effort in the 1940s. Perhaps the movement from modernism to fascism was an easy one for the artist. Foujita also seems to have become disillusioned with the debauchery of his time in Paris and may have felt slighted by the behavior of his usually penniless European friends, who often relied on the rich and successful Foujita for sustenance. Indeed the French surrealist poet Robert Desnos ran off with Foujita's third wife, Lucie Badoul aka Youki.
An official war artist, Foujita was commissioned to produce scenes of the Japanese army's heroism during the war. These canvases were confiscated at the end of World War II and sent to America but were later returned and can now be seen in the National Museum of Modern Art in the Ueno district of Tokyo.
Foujita left Japan in 1949 and returned to France, where he converted to Catholocism and became a French citizen. Foujita is buried in a chapel in Reims that he designed himself.
The collection will eventually be moved to the new Akita Museum of Art designed by Tadao Ando across the road.
Akita Prefectural Museum of Art
3-7 Senshu, Meitokumachi
Admission: 610 yen
Tel: 018 834 3050
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