Noel Nouet  - A French Poet-Artist in Japan

Any serious collector of shin-hanga certainly has come across the woodblock prints of Noel Nouet. They depict sights of Tokyo, but not in the typical way of the shin-hanga style, but at the first glance, they look like a french pen and ink drawing that later was overlaid with watercolors. Indeed, the distinctive element was a pen drawing, which later was converted into the keyblock.

In the 1930's he created a series "Ten Views of Tokyo", which is his most prominent work It is still under discussion among shin-hanga researchers, whether the keyblocks of the prints of Noel Nouet are indeed real woodblocks - taking into account the amount of lines to carve - or simply metal plates (zinc), which easily can be turned into printing plates by photographical transfer and subsequent chemical etching. Although Mrs. Suzue Doi, the widow of the late Eiichi Doi and whose father already was the publisher of the Nouet prints, told the author that all keyblocks of Nouet's prints were handcarved, it should be mentioned that the use of metal plates was not unknown in the woodblock print world - as we know, many keyblocks of Yoshida Hiroshi prints are actually produced as zinc metal plates.

Nevertheless, we should not concern ourselves too much about the technical background, more important is the artistic result of Noel Nouet, which, although different from a typical woodblock print, appeals to the collector. All of Nouet's woodblock prints were published by Doi, most of them before World War II, with only a few following the War. The early versions are much sought after, yet still affordable, and many of his prints are available as later editions, printed by skilled craftsmen, keeping high standards. Apart from the woodblock prints, many of Nouet's sketches were published as individual postcards, or combined into a sketchbook, "Tokyo: Fifty Sketches," showing the city before the War, and, sadly, destroyed after the Allied bombing raids.

 Last year, in 2002, in a Tokyo exhibition the artistic work of Noel Nouet was highly acknowledged and shown to the public; on occasion of this exhibition the newspaper "Asahi Shinbun" wrote an article about Nouet, which follows below translated:

A French Poet painted "Sights of Tokyo" before the War

The exhibition of the woodblock prints of Noel Nouet (1885-1969) will start on September 6, 2002, at the gallery of Tokyo Nichi-Futsu Gakuin, Shinjuku. Nouet admired the landscapes of Hiroshige and was called "Hiroshige IV". September 6 is the anniversary of Hiroshige's death.

Nouet was born in the Bretagne (France). His mother had a Hiroshige collection, obtained from a person who had been to Japan as a consul general. At 25 years of age, Nouet went to Paris to turn to writing poetry. There, in an art and literature salon, he was on friendly terms with Japanese artists such as Tekkan, Akiko Yosano, Takashi Tatsuno, Yaso Saiji and others.

He came to Japan as a French teacher for the Shizuoka High School in 1926. After once returning home, in 1930 he came to Japan again to become a teacher of the Tokyo Foreign Language School. Then, he started to sketch Kanda and Ginza Districts with a pen and he walked around to look for landscapes which Hiroshige painted. His works appeared in the magazine "France" and in the English newspaper "Japan Times" periodically and have become postcards and illustrated books.

His style of loving Tokyo with a natural touch gained popularity and a publisher in Ueno made woodblock prints from his works. (Remark by the translater: This publisher was Doi)

He was called "Hiroshige IV" then. As a matter of fact, he wrote "I would like to rest finally close to Hiroshige."

Even during the War, he stayed in Japan and he lost his own house in Kojimachi by the big air raid in March of 1945. However, he continued to sketch, while grieving over ruined landscapes of the Ginza, Ueno and other districts.

After the War, he taught at the Tokyo University, Waseda University, Gakushuin University, Athena France, Tokyo Nichi-Fuchu Gakuin, and others. He also taught French to the Crown Prince (the present Emperor) for one year in 1951.

The images of Tokyo from Taisho to Showa - both before and after the War - will be transferred to future generations, carrying the ingenious touch of the poet-artist Nouet.

Reference Source: The Asahi Shinbun, Tokyo, September 2002

(c) Andreas Grund and Thomas Crossland -- February 2003

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