Paul Jacoulet was born in Paris in 1902 and moved to Japan with his family at the age of four. He developed skills in drawing, music and languages early on, speaking Japanese, French and English fluently. He began painting at the age of eleven. In 1920, Jacoulet took a job working for the French Embassy as an interpreter in Tokyo.
In 1929, he took his first trip to the South Sea, making sketches and taking photographs during his travels. When he returned home, he created print designs from the materials he had collected. Many of the subjects for Jacoulet’s woodblock prints were from travels to Korea, Manchuria and, of course, Japan. Many of his designs depict people in groups of two or three or as individual portraits.
Jacoulet produced his first woodblock print in 1934, working with professional carvers and printers. His technical requirements for the craftsmanship of his prints were so demanding that he could only work with the best engravers and printers. Jacoulet published many of his prints himself, selling them by a kind of subscription theme. The number of prints produced from one design would determine the number of subscriptions he had, keeping the number of copies quite small. The creation of Jacoulet’s prints involved some very elaborate techniques, including features such as embossing, lacquers, micas and the use of metal pigments. He also experimented with new techniques, for example, powdered semi-precious stones. He used special watermarked papers from Kyoto for his prints instead of the normal Japanese washi paper. He once bragged to have used as many as 300 blocks for one print, but one of his assistants later recalled that the number was probably closer to 60 blocks, which is still impressive. The known number of Paul Jacoulet prints stands at 166.
During WWII, foreign artists fell on hard times as the Westerners left Japan and the demand for Japanese art imports dropped dramatically. There was no market for Jacoulet’s woodblock prints anymore, yet he remained in Japan through the war. He moved to a small countryside village called Karuizawa where he supported himself by growing vegetables and raising poultry, which he sold on the black market. Following WWII, Jacoulet’s work became quite famous, but during his final years, his health deteriorated. He continued to produce woodblock prints until his death in 1960.