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Jacoulet: Une Parisienne

Une Parisienne


1902 - 1960

Paul Jacoulet is renowned for having been the first and one of the few western artists worthy of ranking with Japanese masters of ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world”, the main artistic genre of Japanese woodblock prints.

Edme Marie Eduard Paul Jacoulet was born in Paris in 1896 but lived in Japan for most of his life. Frequently sick during his childhood, Jacoulet spent much of his time pursuing his love of art: drawing, being tutored in Japanese brushwork and Western-style oils and pastels, and collecting traditional Japanese prints. He grew up fully embracing the Japanese culture, finding delight in Kabuki and Joruri in addition to his painting.

He worked for a short time in his early adulthood as an interpreter at the French Embassy, but a devastating earthquake in 1923 spurred Jacoulet to a adopt a spirit of joie de vivre, resigning his position at the Embassy to pursue his passions. 

In 1929 Jacoulet befriended a lonely young boy from Truk who had been sent to school in Tokyo. As a thank you, the boy’s father invited Jacoulet to visit their home in the South Pacific. Jacoulet would spend the next eight winters island hopping, soaking in the indigenous customs, language and folklore. These trips provided Jacoulet with a unique subject for his sketches and paintings, and the distinctive style he developed – applying his calligraphic training with a brush for use with a pencil – was well suited to woodblock prints, which he began creating by 1934.

Jacoulet worked with top woodblock carvers, including Kazuo Yamagishi and Kentaro Maeda, to create his prints. Unlike traditional print artists, who used just a handful of blocks for each print, Jacoulet was the first to frequently use upward of 200. Acting as his own publisher, he closely supervised the pulling of each print, using special hand-made paper and frequently accenting the pieces with mica, mother-of-pearl and other semi-precious materials. Each print was part of a series, distinguished by a seal that incorporated the Japanese characters for his name within a commonplace object.

He sold his prints through subscription, a sort of “print of the month” club. To help promote his work, he also sent prints to famous people including General and Mrs. Douglas MacArthur, Greta Garbo and Queen Elizabeth II, who all became prominent collectors.

During World War II Jacoulet moved to the Karuizawa, in the mountains, where he would live for the rest of his life. He died in 1960 at age 58.

Although most of Jacoulet’s prints portray the South Pacific, a substantial number of works have Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Mongolian subjects. The vast majority depict people, dressed in traditional garb and engaging in traditional activities – moments captured in a world so quickly evolving that these traditional customs soon would vanish.

Last updated: August 14, 2013

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