Sent to South East Asia as an enlisted private in the Foreign Legion ('Légion Étrangere'), Jean Narcisse Commaille (24 June 1868, Marseilles - 30 Apr. 1916, Siem Reap) became the First Conservateur (Curator) of Angkor Wat in July 1908 after joining the EFEO as a mere civil servant eight years earlier.
A pioneer in Angkor Wat, Bayon, the Royal Terraces, Preah Pithu and Baphuon, Prasat Suor Prat excavations -- often with logistical help from Lunet de la Jonquiere --, Commaille was murdered by thieves on a dirt track while carrying his workers' payroll, on April 29, 1916. His tomb is still located near the Bayon.
In love with the Khmer ruins, leading a humble life close to the archeological sites, Jean Commaille left many administrative and scientific reports, as well as a vast collection of his own paintings, watercolors and sketches.
Married in Hanoï in 1904 with Henriette Julie Loustalet (22 Feb. 1882, Bidarray - 4 Aug. 1970, Pau, France), his almost-ascetic life amongst Khmer ruins did not agree with the then young Henriette (22 years old), who decided to travel back to France -- after her piano fell through the vetust hardwood floor of their house near the Bayon, according to some urban legend --, and remarried in 1920 in Marseilles.
The Face Towers, watercolor by Jean Commaille
Commailles humble house in Angkor, with then-wife Henriette on the doorstep (Archives EFEO)
Commaille "in his working outfit", c. 1914 (photo F. Gas-Faucher)