Paul Jacoulet (1896-1960) is best known for his striking portraits of the natives of Asia and the South Seas. He designed 166 woodblock prints and oversaw their production in his workshop. Following in the collaborative tradition of ukiyo-e printmaking, Jacoulet recruited talented carvers and printers who could duplicate the delicate lines of his drawings and watercolors. The exquisite quality of Jacoulet's prints was due in great part to his exacting standards, and his use of costly materials like special hand-made and watermarked paper made in Kyoto, lavish use of gold, silver, platinum, mica, mother of pearl and powdered semi-precious stones, coupled with his use of as many as 300 different blocks for a single print. These characteristics make Jacoulet's body of work unique.
Paul Jacoulet was born to French parents in Paris in January of 1896. At the early age of six, his father, Frederic, accepted a post as a language professor in Tokyo, and so the family was eventually reunited there. His father, Frederic Jacoulet, was a university (Tokyo Gaikokugo Daigaku, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) professor, hired by the Japanese government to teach French to young students. Jacoulet was fluent in the Japanese language and social customs and he studied a wide range of traditional arts and never again left Japan for permanent residence elsewhere.
In 1933, he established the Jacoulet Institute of Prints and by the next year, he began publishing his own designs. With the exception of Jacoulet's 1934 Rainbow Series published by the Kato Institute, all his prints were self-published. Unlike many other shin-hanga publishers, Jacoulet would discard any prints whose impression was not excellent. Also unusual is that he gave credit to his carvers and printers by including their names in the margins of his prints.
Jacoulet remained in Japan through World War II and continued to produce prints up until the time of his death in 1960. Although many of his prints were sold by subscription, he also sold a number of prints to American military officers stationed in Japan. He took great pride in the fact that his prints hung in the offices and studies of the rich and famous, including General Douglas MacArthur, Pope Pius XII, President Truman, Greta Garbo, and Queen Elizabeth II. He was also an avid butterfly collector with a collection, which totaled 300,000 species at the time of his death.