I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this here, but my minor in college was art history.
I don’t know much about Paul Jacoulet, but I agree he’s an interesting character. At least the potential is there for being interesting given that he was French but lived in Japan for most of his life, including during World War II.
As to why he’s not more well-known than he is, I think there are several reasons, but all those reasons revolve around him being something of an outlier in the art world.
So in no particular order…
He lived and worked in Japan, which limited his exposure in the West.
In Japan, he was something of a curiosity who, despite his obvious talent and mastery of woodblock printing, could never be considered Japanese by the Japanese. I might even argue that his work looked a bit foreign in that mixing traditional Japanese techniques and subject matter with his own personal Western style accentuated the impression of him being a foreigner who was imitating Japanese art rather than a true practitioner of it.
Lots of people have a misperception about what art history is. They’re confused over why some artists end up in the history books and why other very talented artists don’t. Many people will look at the works of, for example, de Kooning or Duchamp and comment that their 6-year-old could have created the same thing, which might very well be true. However, those kinds of naive judgments ignore the fact that the works of de Kooning and Duchamp had a huge influence on the subsequent course of art history. In other words, art history is not about who might have been the best, most-talented artists. It’s, instead, about those seminal artists and their works that either best represented or changed the course of art history. So applying this filter to Jacoulet, he doesn’t really survive as more than a footnote. Instead, he’s something of an oddity whose life and works, although interesting, didn’t represent a milestone or turning point in art and were more like a quirky dead end.
You mentioned Gaugin. There are stylistic and subject treatment similarities between Gaugin’s work and that of Jacoulet. And I’m certain Jacoulet was familiar with and influenced by Gaugin’s work. For that matter, Jacoulet might have been the more talented artist of the two. However, Gaugin’s work represented a major turning point in the Western art world — Jacoulet’s did not.
From the time Japan opened up (1850s) through the first years of the 20th Century, Western (European) art was embarking on the beginnings of an artistic revolution, which was, in part, influenced by the novel availability of commercial prints of Japanese woodblock art. Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and the entire Impressionist movement was influenced by Japanese art. For that matter, that influence continued beyond Impressionism to Cubism and, even, Fauvism. From there, though, Western art moved beyond its fascination with Japanese art to Dada and surrealism to, by the time Jacoulet came along, the beginnings of Abstract Expressionism.
So just summing it up, as interesting and talented as Paul Jacoulet might have been, he existed outside the mainstream world of Western art. His most productive period was some 50 years past the time of Japanese prints being influential to avant garde Western artists. For that matter, his work is from a time associated with Japanese aggression and military defeat. The mainstream art world was just not interested in embracing a French-Japanese artist at a time when the center of Western artistic innovation was moving from Paris to New York and embracing the likes of Pollock and Rothko.
None of this, however, makes Paul Jacoulet a less interesting subject for a book. For that matter, the quirkiness of a Frenchman living in Japan and adopting a Japanese lifestyle while producing Japanese traditional art is pretty interesting. That such a talented and fascinating artist has remained largely ignored over the years is, in itself, compelling in much the same sad sense as Van Gogh never being recognized as a major artist until after his death.