Paul Jacoulet (1902-1960)

Jacoulet was born in Paris. His family moved to Japan in 1906 where his father tutored young aristocrats. Often sickly and privately tutored as a child, Jacoulet became skilled at languages, music and drawing. Paul first worked for Tokyo’s French Embassy. Seeking relief from the boring interpreting work, he spent much time at Noh and Puppetry dramas. In his early 20’s, he was in demand socially with his Paris clothes, his Japanese fluency and his charm and talent. In 1923 a devastating earthquake destroying many homes but spared the Jacoulets'. This experience convinced Paul that he was meant to be an artist.

In 1929 Jacoulet went on a long trip to Gauguin’s South Seas. He made many sketches and photographs of local natives, dressed and posed elegantly. It was this work that was first translated into woodblock prints. He felt the contrasts between the aristocracy and ordinary people could take the traditional art into the 20th century. Jacoulet further broke from tradition by publishing his own work ensuring its high quality.

The late 1930’s were most important creatively. He originated the idea of selling his prints through a subscription list at modest prices. His living circumstances became difficult as a foreigner in economically depressed Japan preparing to enter WWII. Materials became scarce and his foreign clientele was leaving the country. He spent the war years in a rural area concentrating on survival. His success at raising vegetables and chickens and selling them on the black market funded his refocus on art when the war ended.

Materials were still scarce making it impossible to reprint earlier works in any quantity. He began to design directly for the key block. Although still plagued by ill health, his work subsumed his energy as he also tested new pigments and dealt with his increasing popularity. In his mid-fifties, his health seriously deteriorated and he died of diabetic shock. In his lifetime, he produced some thirty thousand woodblock prints and several hundred watercolors, most of which were lost. What remain are 166 known completed prints. Few other artists used as many precious metals or innovative techniques (embossing, colored micas, waxes, lacquers, powdered semi-precious stones). Using special watermarked paper, each print was the result of as many as 300 pressings.

Abstracted from The Prints of Paul Jacoulet, A complete illustrated Catalogue, Richard Miles


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