Past Exhibitions

  • March 12 - May 26, 2019

Laugh Off This Hopeless World: Fukuzawa Ichiro

A retrospective of an avant-garde painter who incorporated social criticism into his enigmatic images

April Fool, 1930, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Toilet Paper Hell, 1974, The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma

              Fukuzawa Ichiro (1898-1992) is an artist who led the Western-style painting community in Japan from the prewar years of the Showa period to after World War II. In the prewar period, he introduced French Surrealism to Japan. At the same time, he expressed symbolic messages of social criticism and became a leader of avant-garde art movements. Despite oppression during the war, in the postwar era, he once again worked on large group portraits from a critical viewpoint on the society and received the Order of Culture in his later years.

              In the history of modern art in Japan, so far, Fukuzawa has almost always been discussed as the man who introduced Surrealism. However, in this exhibition, we shall focus on how he confronted the society throughout his lifetime as an artist. There are approximately 100 works presented from such a point of view including his early works with a touch of satire in the enigmatic images, his most important work, Group of Figures Defeated in Battle (1948), which is often referred to as the starting point of postwar art, and the series through which he attempted social criticism by adopting Western and Oriental images of Hell. Through his works versatile yet based on a consistent critical mind, we hope you will have an opportunity to consider the present-day significance of Fukuzawa’s artistic career, which he spent keenly observing the human being with intellectual humor.

Main Works

Agitator, 1931, FUKUZAWA Ichiro Memorial Foundation

Oxen, 1936, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Woman, 1937, Tomioka City Museum / Fukuzawa Ichiro Memorial Gallery

Group of Figures Defeated in Battle, 1948, The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma

Burial, 1957, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

Will Evil Voltage Rise in the 21st Century?, 1986, Tomioka City Museum / Fukuzawa Ichiro Memorial Gallery


Chapter 1. Misanthropy: Studying in Paris

Fukuzawa Ichiro studied sculpture under Asakura Fumio while enrolled in the Faculty of Literature at Tokyo Imperial University. From 1924 to 1931, he went to study in Paris and during that time, he proceeded from sculpture to painting. His early works produced having studied Western art broadly from classical art to contemporary works already demonstrate expressions clearly distinguished from ordinary realism.


Chapter 2. Surrealism and Satire

While studying in France, Fukuzawa came across La Femme 100 Têtes (1929), a series of collages by the Surrealist artist Max Ernst. Inspired by Ernst’s methodology of combining illustrations from old books and magazines dating from around the late nineteenth century in a peculiar way to produce absurd images, Fukuzawa did many oil paintings, attaching satirical connotations to them. These works were presented at The First Dokuritsu Bijutsu Kyokai Exhibition held in 1931 and attracted considerable attention.


Chapter 3. After Returning to Japan

Once Fukuzawa returned to Japan in 1931, while applying Surrealistic methods he had acquired in Paris, he began to paint characteristic satirical works with a cynical eye on the society. He probably wanted to observe the society from a free viewpoint with a critical eye unrestricted by any particular ideology.


Chapter 4. Activism (Active Humanism)

Having been suppressed by the government, proletarian art movements were annihilated around 1934 and those engaged in expression were smothered in a sense of helplessness. Amidst such circumstances, in the domain of literature, Komatsu Kiyoshi and others advocated activism (active humanism). As an artist, Fukuzawa sympathized with this thought and practiced humanism in his paintings. That is to say, amidst a situation in which freedom of expression was narrowed down, Fukuzawa stuck determinedly to his individual viewpoint. Works such as Oxen (1936) had a considerable influence on the young artists and Fukuzawa secured a position as a key figure in avant-garde art movements.


Chapter 5.  Wartime Avant-garde

On April 5, 1941, Fukuzawa was arrested on suspicion of violation of the Peace Preservation Law together with the poet and art critic Takiguchi Shuzo. There was suspicion that Surrealism was related to Communism. Although the two men were released in November that year, from then on, they were obliged to cooperate with the war efforts. However, Fukuzawa’s activities during the wartime need to be reconsidered.


Chapter 6. Myths Reflecting Social Conditions of the Time (1)

Resuming activity after World War II, Fukuzawa expressed the disorderly social conditions in the form of “Inferno” from the Divine Comedy written in Italy at the beginning of the fourteenth century by Dante. During this time, Group of Figures Defeated in Battle (1948) was produced as an extension of the series based on Dante.


Chapter 7. Primitivism as Criticism on Civilization

Fukuzawa left for Europe in 1952 and traveled on to Brazil and Mexico before returning to Japan in 1954. The primitive vitality of the people and formed objects he witnessed in Latin America stimulated his inspiration remarkably. Perhaps Fukuzawa found what Japan was lacking there.


Chapter 8. In U.S.A.

In 1965, Fukuzawa traveled around the United States of America. It was just when the African American Civil Rights Movement was on the rise. Fukuzawa captured the energy of the movement seeking freedom in a series of works painted in an agile touch employing acrylic paint. Fukuzawa also took witty shots of the New Yorkers on such occasions.


Chapter 9. Myths Reflecting Social Conditions of the Time (2)

In the 1970s, Fukuzawa once again began working on a series featuring Hell based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Furthermore, based on Ojoyoshu (The Essentials of Rebirth in the Pure Land) by the Buddhist monk Genshin, Fukuzawa depicted Oriental Hell and based on those works, he produced humorous portrayals of present-day social conditions likened to Hell.


Chapter 10. Warnings to the Twenty-first Century

Fukuzawa’s message to the present-day society was more than satire on current affairs. Based on the classics, he presented it as a universal issue for the human beings. This attitude remained consistent until his later years. His works suggest a warning against the demoralization of people’s minds and the downfall of civilization. While seeking subject matter in the past, here too, Fukuzawa seems to be overlapping it with the situation in present-day Japan.





Art Museum Special Exhibition Gallery

March 12 - May 26, 2019

10:00-17:00 ( Fridays and Saturdays open until 20:00 )
*Last admission : 30 minutes before closing.

Mondays ( except March 25, April 1, 29, and May 6, 2019 ), and May 7, 2019

Adults: ¥1,200( 900 )
College / University students: ¥800( 500 )
*Including the admission fee for MOMAT collection. Offer valid only on the same day.
*The price in brackets is for the group of 20 persons or more.
*All prices include tax.
*High school students and under 18 are free of charge.
*Persons with disability and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Cooperated by:
The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma
Tomioka City Museum / Fukuzawa Ichiro Memorial Gallery
FUKUZAWA Ichiro Memorial Foundation

Art Museum

3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8322


CLOSED today

July 16, 2019 (Tue)