The exhibition The floating universe of Paul Jacoulet - a travelling artist in Micronésia has been organised to mark the donation of the best part of Paul Jacoulet's collection to the musée du quai Branly. This donation has been offered by Ms Thérèse Jacoulet-Inagaki, the artist's adoptive daughter, as well as three other inheritors: Mr. Chisei Ra, Mr. Louis Young Whan Rah and Mr. Shozo Tomita. 

The donation includes more than 2950 pieces: prints with their corresponding xylographic plates, watercolors, drawings, studies and other documents and objects. The property transfer will be officially signed on the day of the exhibition preview.

an artist’s travels through micronesia, the floating universe of paul jacoulet

The floating universe of Paul Jacoulet

Affiche de l'exposition "Un artiste voyageur en Micronésie, l'univers flottant de Paul Jacoulet" - Click to enlarge, open in a new window


From Tuesday 26th February 2013 to Sunday 19th May 2013

  • East Mezzanine
  • Collections ticket


  • Christian Polak, doctor in law, specialist in the history of Franco-Japanese relations, specialist in the work of Paul Jacoulet
  • with the collaboration of Julien Rousseau, responsible for the Asia collections, at the musée du quai Branly

    Scientific advisors

      • Kiyoko SawatariSenior researcher at the Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, specialist in the work of  Paul Jacoulet
      • Sébastien Galliot, specialist in Micronesian tattoos

        Events related to the exhibition

        visits, catalogue and events related to the exhibition

        Exhibition trailer

        About the exhibition

        The French artist, Paul Jacoulet (1896-1960) arrived in Japan in 1899, where he spent the best part of his life. He travelled to Korea, China and Micronesia which he visited numerous times to paint portraits of the inhabitants. Through his engravings and drawings, he represented men and women he had met using a style that is simultaneously intimate, aesthetic and ethnographic.

        Several major themes allow the visitor to travel through his extensive and unique œuvre: the artist-ethnographer's intimate vision of an "elsewhere" which had become his daily reality, the representation of tattooing, adornment and of certain rituals and the erotic component of certain portraits.

        The exhibition brings together more than 160 exceptional drawings, sketches and engravings from the donation made to the musée du quai Branly in 2011 by Madame Thérèse Jacoulet-Inagaki, the adopted daughter of Paul Jacoulet, as well as the three other heirs and donors - Chisei Ra, Louis Young Whan Rah and Shozo Tomita. A collection of wood used in the preparation of engravings, objects from the musée du quai Branly and from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, together with audio-visual programmes, complete this presentation.

        To see the whole donation online, follow this link, and search for "Jacoulet".

        Exhibition synopsis

        The travelling artist

        The exhibition starts with a selection of Asian wood engravings and watercolors, dedicated to the voyages made by the artist to Korea, China, Mongolia etc. They introduce the visitor to his works outside of Micronesia. Throughout his travels across eastern Asia, and from 1929 onwards in Micronesia, Paul Jacoulet found a ceaselessly renewed inspiration characterised by a humanist view of the diversity of civilisations.

        At the heart of the exhibition, an audiovisual programme enables visitors to familiarise themselves with the technique of  ukiyo-e (a Japanese term meaning "image of the floating world"), engravings on wood primarily depicting subjects from daily life in the Edo period (1603-1868). This is the technique that Paul Jacoulet was to use half a century later to create his works.

        A series of woodblocks is presented in parallel with several stages of the engraving Sorrows of love, Kutaie, Caroline Islands, 1940.


        Towards the light of the Micronesian Islands

        It was in 1929 that Paul Jacoulet visited the Micronesian islands for the first time. Amazed by the natural environment and the local cultures that he discovered there, the artist regularly travelled through the region until 1932. From each of his voyages he brought back an abundance of watercolors and drawings. With almost monographic powers of observation, this Micronesian series magnifies the diversity of the natural species and societies that he encountered.

        This section presents the watercolors, engravings and drawings of Paul Jacoulet classified by island, among which are three series of watercolors of butterflies, insects and flowers.

        Ornithoptera Lydius (papillon), mers du Sud, Paul Jacoulet, 1936. Crayon sur papier vert. Inv. 70.2013.1.2439, donation Paul Jacoulet © ADAGP, Paris 2013. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
        Ornithoptera Lydius (papillon), mers du Sud, Paul Jacoulet, 1936. Crayon sur papier vert. Inv. 70.2013.1.2439, donation Paul Jacoulet © ADAGP, Paris 2013.

        The art of tattooing

        Tattooing is widespread in Micronesia, where it indicates the social rank and sex of each individual; it is the symbol of each individual's identity. In his portraits Paul Jacoulet represented the variety and abundance of the signs found on the bodies of men and women. A series of engravings, watercolors, sketches and preparatory drawings on this theme are exhibited.

        A selection of Micronesian objects linked to the practice of tattooing examine the rituals of tattooing in Micronesia, their meaning and their survival. An audiovisual programme on the art of tattooing completes this section.

        The art of personal ornamentation

        The eye of the artist ethnographer is revealed in the numerous representations of traditional personal ornaments – jewellery, headdresses and textiles – employed by the Micronesians. This section presents these works, together with a series of ear ornaments, necklaces etc. whose motifs can be found in the engravings.

        Claquettes, Japon, seconde moitié du 20ème siècle. Bois. MQB, inv. 70.2013.1.2621, donation Paul Jacoulet © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
        Claquettes, Japon, seconde moitié du 20ème siècle. Bois. MQB, inv. 70.2013.1.2621, donation Paul Jacoulet © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain
        Godets à peinture, Japon, seconde moitié du 20ème siècle. MQB, inv. Z449493, donation Paul Jacoulet © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
        Godets à peinture, Japon, seconde moitié du 20ème siècle. MQB, inv. Z449493, donation Paul Jacoulet © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain



        "No engraving is identical to another... This is what gives engravings their great value. They cannot be confused with an ordinary print or a mechanical reproduction." – Paul Jacoulet, Correspondence, 1942

        The intimate

        The penultimate section presents, in an enclosed space, the very beautiful male and female nudes produced in Micronesia by Paul Jacoulet. The aesthetic of the lines and the modelling of the bodies is fully emphasised without any direct allusion to eroticism.

        The universe of Paul Jacoulet

        The last section is dedicated to the creative universe of Paul Jacoulet: pencils, brushes, travel diary and sketchbook, pigments etc. are all exhibited.

        The exhibition ends with a piece symbolising the attachment of the artist to Japan: a set of clappers. These everyday objects were used either by firemen to warn inhabitants of the risks of fire or to mark the end of a performance or a sumo tournament.

        Biographical notes

        Portrait de Paul Jacoulet dans son atelier © DR, avec l’aimable autorisation de Thérèse Jacoulet-Inagaki. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
        Portrait of Paul Jacoulet in his studio © DR, with the kind authorisation of Thérèse Jacoulet-Inagaki.


        Paul is born to Paul Frédéric Jacoulet (1872-1921) and Jeanne Pétrau-Lartigues de Membiel (1874-1940), in rue de Rome, in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.


        Paul Frédéric is given the post of a French teacher in Tokyo. Two years later, the family settle in Japan.


        Paul enters school, while studying both Japanese and English with private tutors.


        During a trip to France with his father, he discovers the great modern European painters.


        At the age of 13, he receives teaching from Terukata and Shoen Ikeda, a famous duo of painters. During this period, he trains in reproducing the classics of the  ukiyo-e style of engraving. 


        Following the death of Paul Frédéric Jacoulet, his mother leaves Japan for France. She remarries a Japanese man who resides in Seoul and permanently settles in Korea. The visits that Paul pay to her give birth to a number of works inspired by this country.


        Profoundly marked by his first voyage to Micronesia, he decides to dedicate his life to painting. After this decisive experience, he also begins his collection of butterflies and visits Micronesia several times until 1932.


        In Tokyo, he founds the "Jacoulet Institute of Engraving" (Jacoulet Hanga Kenkyu-jo) and collaborates with master engravers and printers in the traditional manner. He produces and exhibits his first series of engravings and soon reaches the peak of his career.


        With the upheavals caused by the Second World War, Paul Jacoulet suspends his artistic activity, just after the publication of "Princesses of Manchuria". Three years later, with the bombing of 1945, his house is destroyed, but the artist succeeds in saving the majority of his drawings and watercolors.


        Paul Jacoulet establishes himself in Karuizawa, at the foot of the mountains, where he founds a new studio with the Rah brothers, who work with him until the end of his life.


        Following several exhibitions in Europe and in the United States, Paul Jacoulet dies of diabetes.

        Exhibition media partners