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Biography: Noël Nouët (ノエル・ヌエット Noeru Nuetto)

Noël Nouët photo
Noël Nouët (ノエル・ヌエットト Noeru Nuetto)
(reproduced in Nihon fûbutsu-shi, 1942)
 

Noël Nouët signature

 

Noël Nouët 1936 kameidoNoël Nouët (1885-1969 ノエル・ヌエット Noeru Nuetto) was born Frédéric Anges Nouët in Locmine, Brittany. He was an unusual figure in the history of twentieth-century printmaking in Japan, as he was primarily a poet and writer. After high school, he studied literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. By 1910, he was living in Montmartre, working at the publishing house Renaissance du Livre, and composing a poem a day, some of which appeared in the revue L'hermitage under his newly-adopted pen name "Noël Nouët." His first collection of poems was published that year under the title Les Étoiles entre les feuilles (The Stars between the Leaves), for which he won the inaugural Prix de littérature spiritualiste. Two more poetry collections followed in 1912 and 1913.

After the First World War, Nouët frequented Parisian literary salons where he befriended French and Japanese artists, writers, and poets. Relocating to Japan in January 1926, he began a three-year position as a French teacher at Shizuoka High School near Mount Fuji. Returning to France in March 1929, he resumed his poetry career, supporting himself by teaching French to Japanese living in Paris. In 1930, Nouët's fourth collection of poems was published, many of which described the Japanese landscape.

While in Tokyo during the 1930s, Nouët made pen-and-ink sketches of the city's sights, including Kanda and Ginza. In 1934, the Japan Times and Mail published a collection of fifty such sketches in a bilingual book entitled Tokyo As Seen By A Foreigner (Vue par un étranger). A second volume of an additional fifty sketches was published the following year, and in 1937, a third collection entitled Tokyo: Old City, Modern Capital, Fifty Sketches (Tokyo: Ville Ancienne Capitale Moderne Cinquante Croquis) was published by La Maison Franco-Japonaise. Other publications followed, including Tokyo (東京) in 1946 documenting the post-war ruin of the city.

The first exhibition of Nouët's works took place in December 1950 at the Mannendo Gallery in Ginza. It received favorable notices, including one from his friend, the novelist Nagai Kafû (永井荷風 1879-1959, pseudonym for Nagai Sôkichi 永井壮吉). In 1936, one of Nouët's former foreign-language students, the son of the Tokyo woodblock print publisher Doi Sadaichi (土井貞一) and older brother to Sadaichi's successor, Doi Eiichi (土井英一), offered to have his family turn one of Nouët's ink sketches into a woodblock print, a rather challenging project given the fine lines in the originals made by a fountain pen. Their success prompted Doi Sadaichi to publish in 1937 a series of full color prints designed by Nouët called Tokyo fûkei zen nijûyo mai (Scenes of Tokyo, twenty-four views: 東京風景[...] 二十四枚). Over the years, certain critics have suggested that given the Western-style linear (non-brushed) quality of Nouët's sketches, relief-etched zinc plates (mounted to woodblocks) must have been used for the keyblocks to capture the quality of the thin lines. However, the contemporary block carver and printer David Bull confirmed in 2017 that the present-day Doi Hangaten inventory of original blocks for Nouët's prints confirms that the designs were made entirely from solid cherry wood and that no metal plates were involved.

In 1962, Nouët decided to leave Japan after spending nearly thirty-five years of his life there. During his lifetime, Nouët received awards and recognition for his contributions to art, literature, and society. In 1947, the French government awarded him the Légion d'honneur, its highest national order of merit for military and civil service. In 1956, the Japanese government decorated Nouët with the Zuihosho Medal, the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Fourth Class, for his contribution in the field of education and his efforts to introduce Japan history and culture abroad. In 1965, the city of Tokyo bestowed upon him the rare honorific title of "Citizen of Tokyo."


For more information about Noël Nouët, see John Fiorillo's web page:
https://viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/shin_hanga/nouet_noel.html