A spare-time painter in Angkor: Jean Commaille

by Nadine André-Pallois & Jean Commaille

Publication: Arts Asiatiques, Vol. 47, pp. 29-39 (via EFEO/JSTOR)

Language : French

1992 - 11 pages

A self-made explorer and archeologist, Jean Commaille has played an important role in the pioneer years of Angkorean studies.

He had also quite the artist's eye, as some 37 watercolors, 23 oil paintings and numerous sketches testify.

Art historian Nadine André-Pallois offers a presentation of the artist, and an extensive inventory of his body of work.

(Original title: "Un peintre du dimanche à Angkor, Jean Commaille")

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(Photos EFEO)

About the Authors

Nadine André-Pallois

Art historian associated with Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Nadine André-Pallois has published several studies on Indochina painters, in particular from Vietnam.

Jean Commaille

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.

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The Face Towers, watercolor by Jean Commaille

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Commailles humble house in Angkor, with then-wife Henriette on the doorstep (Archives EFEO)