Paul Jacoulet, born in France and raised in Japan, fits into none of the mainstream art movements. His Japanese woodblock prints are a mixture of traditional ukiyo-e printmaking of highest standards and new lavish techniques invented by the artist himself. A Jacoulet print can be the result of up to 60 different blocks.
First Publication: September 2001
Latest Update: April 2013
Paul Jacoulet was born in Paris in 1902. From the age of 4 he lived in Japan. His father worked at the Tokyo University as a teacher. The young child Paul was of poor health. But he developed good skills for drawing, music and languages. He spoke Japanese, French and English fluently. At the age of eleven he began painting.
In 1920, Jacoulet began to work for the French Embassy in Tokyo as an interpreter. Paul had a lively interest in Japanese culture and was a frequent guest in the Noh and Kabuki theaters.
In 1929 Jacoulet undertook his first trip to the South Sea. Jacoulet made sketches and photographs during his travels. Back at home, he created the print designs from the material collected.
Jacoulet took many of the subjects for his woodblock prints from the South Sea, but also from travels to Korea or Manchuria and from Japan of course. Most of Jacoulet's designs show people - either in groups of two or three or as individual portraits. While his designs of the pre-war period, reflects a certain realism, the post-war woodblock prints show scenes that are a product of fantasy.
This depiction of a South Sea world that did not exist any more, later resulted in some harsh remarks from art critics. And criticism was the last that the artist was willing to accept.
In 1934, Jacoulet produced his first woodblock print. He worked with professional carvers and printers. The technical requirements on craftsmanship for a Paul Jacoulet print were so high that he could cooperate only with the very best engravers and printers.
Jacoulet published most of his prints himself. He tried to sell by a kind of subscription scheme. The number of prints pulled from one design depended on the number of subscriptions he had. Therefore the number of copies taken remained small.
Times became difficult for foreign artists in prewar Japan. Westerner left Japan and demand for Japanese art imports from Japan dropped. There was no place to go and no market for his woodblock prints any more. Jacoulet remained in Japan through the war. He moved to Karuizawa in the countryside and could survive the difficult years of World War II by cultivating vegetables and raising poultry which he sold on the black market.
Jacoulet used some very elaborate techniques for the creation of his prints. This included all the known deluxe features like embossing, lacquers, micas or metal pigments. And he experimented with new techniques like powdered semi-precious stones. For his prints he used special watermarked papers from Kyoto instead of the normal Japanese washi paper.
For some of his prints he bragged to have used as many as 300 hundred blocks. But that seems to be exaggerated - Paul Jacoulet had a reputation for inventing stories! One of his assistants later remembered that they sometimes used up to 60 blocks - still a lot. The format of Jacoulet prints is usually rather large.
The known number of Paul Jacoulet prints is 166.
After World War II the art work of Jacoulet became rapidly famous. Among his admirers and collectors were General Douglas MacArthur, Greta Garbo, Pope Pius XII and Queen Elizabeth II. But some sources say that Jacoulet had simply sent his prints to these celebrities for free as presents and unrequested to promote his sales with a reference list of well-known names.
The artist had developed rather extravagant manners after World War II. He used make-up for his face and powdered his lips. His favorite clothes were kimonos. It does not look so strange for the generation who experienced the revolution of the sixties with the Beatles and Pop Art. But in post-war Japan occupied by the US forces, this was seen as rather weird.
During his last years, his health got worse and worse. But Jacoulet continued to produce woodblock prints until the time of his death in 1960. He died of diabetes at the age of 58.
Jacoulet prints are rare and not quite cheap - a small market niche. A typical price for a print in good condition is around US$1,000 to 5.000. Apart from condition, the price depends considerably on the attractiveness of the subject. Some of his works hit record prices in the 1980s. A print from 1934, the Parisian Lady was hammered for US$25,000 at an auction.
In the new millennium prices seem to have come down for Jacoulet prints. But the cheaper prints are often not in first-rate condition. In the 1970s and 1980s it was fashionable to decorate one's office or home with prints by this artist.
Many of these "consumer prints" are now coming back into the market. Their condition is usually from modest to completely ruined. We have personally experienced such prints sent to us unrequested. I remember one shipment with several Jacoulet prints that had virtually fallen apart due to the damages caused by year-long exposure to sunlight and a lack of humidity.
Another aspect that we encountered around 2007 were several prints by Paul Jacoulet not signed and not numbered. We assume that these were from "printer(s) hoards". We have never heard about Paul Jacoulet fakes. In my view it would require too much effort, and the market prices and demand are not attractive enough to encourage fakes.
I found this video on Youtube published by Musée du Quai Branly in Paris on the occasion of an exhibition of Paul Jacoulet from Tuesday 26 february 2013 to Sunday 19 May 2013. It shows documentary material I had never seen before.
Fortunately there is a complete catalog raisonnée - a book listing of his complete works - available. "The Prints of Paul Jacoulet" , by Richard Miles, Publisher: Robert G. Sawyers, ISBN: 0903697130. It is now out of print, but available from antique book dealers on the internet for roughly $100 (in 2009).
For collectors of Paul Jacoulet prints it is a "must" in my view. It has a short text biography of the artist, complete illustrations of all print images and a table of the different seals used by Jacoulet. Overall, an indispensable reference source, but not a coffee table book.
We produced this little video about Paul Jacoulet a few years ago.
4 object(s) by Paul Jacoulet 1902-1960 in current auction Shin Hanga and Paul Jacoulet - 1197
73 sold object(s) by Paul Jacoulet 1902-1960 in our Art Archive
3 signature(s) by Paul Jacoulet in our Signature Database
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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