Paul Jacoulet – the “perfect synthesis of the Eastern and Western worlds”

Paul Jacoulet (1896-1960) has an immensely abundant legacy of over 160 woodcut prints in addition to an excess of 3,000 watercolours and drawings. His works are a triumphant harmony of both Eastern and Western cultures that he was exposed to throughout his lifetime, recently acknowledged in an exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 2011. Born in France, Jacoulet grew up in Tokyo after his father, a university professor, was hired by the Japanese government to teach French to young officials and aristocrats. Having been raised within an environment of education and culture, Jacoulet was fluent in Japanese language and sociability. He studied a wide range of Japanese traditional arts, including the art of woodblock printing, which he did so under the tutelage of Shizuya Fujikake from approximately 1931. Jacoulet’s work takes its inspiration from his immediate surroundings in Japan, Korea and later the Pacific Islands, fused with a sense of Western ideals from his knowledge of art in France and other European countries. His prints almost exclusively depict people as their subject, predominantly either as portraits or incidents of daily life and are therefore fruitful sources of dress and social customs. He remained faithful to the traditional ‘ukiyo-e’ genre of Japanese woodcuts but diffuses into it new subject matter and the adoption of atypical colours, resulting in his vivid and colourful representations of people and scenes. ​ Jacoulet’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the woodblock print as an art form was demonstrated by his pursuit of perfection in ensuring only high quality work was produced and his active involvement throughout the printing process. In 1931, Jacoulet created the Jacoulet Institute of Prints in order to self-publish his work and was one of the rare publishers who visibly credited the carvers and printers within the margins of the prints themselves. The greatest reflection of his triumphant synergy of East and West is perhaps his professional success within Japan itself, rendering Jacoulet’s work far more than merely westernised interpretations of the East.