Jean Boisselier

Portrait of Jean   Boisselier

Jean Boisselier (26 Aug 1912, Paris - 26 Feb. 1996, Paris), son of the French military visual artist Henri Boisselier, was a leading specialist in Khmer plastic arts. Curator of Phnom Penh National Museum, he was a member of EFEO (École française d'Extrême-Orient) until 1955, and worked in Angkor as an archaeologist and conservator from 1949 to 1955.

Like so many French writers and archaeologists in the making, he got under the spell of Angkor after seeing a picture of the Khmer temple published by L'Illustration on the occasion of Marseilles Exposition Coloniale in 1922, when he was 10. After completing studies at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, he became a drawing teacher with the aim of joining the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens (School of Cambodian Arts) founded by George Groslier in Phnom Penh.

A prisoner of war for five years during Second World War, he joined Ecole du Louvre in 1945 and completed his thesis on Khmer statuary under the supervision of Prof. Philippe Stern, while also teaching drawing and history of Khmer art at Guimet Museum and gave lectures of drawing and history of Khmer art.

After briefly working with Henri Marchal in Angkor in 1949, working on the restoration of Angkor Thom North Gate and Banteay Kdei temple, he was appointed curator of the Museum of Phnom Penh in 1950 after Solange Bernard-Thierry, making sure the Museum as well as the Buddhist Institute's management was smoothly transfered to Cambodian authorities after the independence, and establishing the first comprehensive catalog of the museum, with more than 6,000 artworks identified and labeled. From 1955, he turned his attention to Thailand, studying the ancient city site of U Thong and the remains of Dvaravati period. Leaving EFEO for Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), he took part in several archeological missions in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Leading from 1970 to 1980 the research training programme "Archaeology and Civilisations of the South and Southeast Asia" at University Paris III, he was also granted the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by Bangkok Silpakorn University in 1983.

With a deep personal vinculation to Southeast Asian culture and arts, Jean Boisselier liked to practice Buddhist meditation and kept friendly bounds with the Cambodian community in Paris. According to Madeleine Giteau's obituary in Arts Asiatiques (t. 51, 1996. pp. 138-139), "his Cambodian friends brought him solace during particularly painful moments, when his wife passed away in 1987, and after the death of their son Louis in 1991. He entrusted with his last wishes his closest friends in France, HRH Prince and HRH Princess Sisowath Essaro." [Prince Sisowath Essaro (2 May 1920, Phnom Penh - 12 Aug 2004, Melun, France) had served many years as Cambodian ambassador and representative to the UN.]


  • La statuaire khmère et son évolution. Saigon, EFEO (PEFEO 37), 1955
  • Tendances de l’Art khmer. Commentaires sur 24 chefs-d’œuvre du musée de Phnom Penh Paris, PUF (Publ. du musée Guimet 42), 1956
  • "Travaux de M. George Cœdès. Essai de Bibliographie" (with A. Zigmund-Cerbu), Artibus Asiae, Vol. 24, No. 3/4, 1961, pp. 155-186.
  • La statuaire du Champa. Recherches sur les cultes et l’iconographie, Paris, EFEO (PEFEO 54) 1963
  • Asie du Sud-Est : I. Le Cambodge, Paris, Picard (Manuel d’archéologie d’Extrême-Orient, 1) 1966
  • Notes sur l'art du bronze dans l'ancien Cambodge, Artibus Asiae 29/4. 1967
  • La sculpture en Thaïlande, Fribourg, Office du Livre (Bibliothèque des Arts), 1974
  • La peinture en Thaïlande (with Jean-Michel Beurdeley), Fribourg, Office du livre (Bibliothèque des Arts), 1976, deutsche Version: Malerei in Thailand. W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-17-002521-X
  • Il Sud-Est asiatico, Turin, Storia Universale dell’ Arte, 1986
  • Studies on the Art of Ancient Cambodia, (tr. Natasha Eilenberg and Robert L. Brown), Reyum Publishing, Phnom Penh, 1991
  • La sagesse du Bouddha, Découvertes Gallimard n 194, Gallimard, Paris 1993, ISBN 9782070437504 (new editions in 2010, 2019) |  UK edition: The Wisdom of the Buddha, New Horizons series, Thames & Hudson, London 1994 | US edition: The Wisdom of the Buddha, Abrams Discoveries series. Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1994
  • Bouddha, Gallimard, Paris, 2013 (preface by Trinh Xuan Thuan)