Louis Delaporte


Louis Delaporte was born in Loches in 1842 and died in Paris in 1925.

From a very young age, he decided to become a sailor. His father, a lawyer, was not opposed to this choice of vocation. Louis, therefore, left the college of Orleans to register for the one at Lorient which prepares entrance to the Brest Naval Academy which he received in 1858.

He was appointed a midshipman in 1860 and sailed to Mexico where he contracted yellow fever. After many expeditions, including to Iceland, he attained the rank of ensign.

Because of his talent for drawing he left for Cochin in 1866 and was ultimately assigned to accompany the Mekong Exploration Commission.

He was entranced by the sophistication of the ruins at Angkor and decided to devote his life to understanding and promoting the civilization which created them. To his mind, their achievements were as important as those of ancient Egypt.

On his return to France in 1868 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and made a Knight of the Legion of Honor.

After an interruption due to the war of 1870, he started his mission in 1873 with the support of the Geographical Society.

He got the Ministries of the Navy, Foreign Affairs, and Education to support a dual endeavor: to verify the navigability of the Red River from its delta to Yunnan and to begin the first official collection of Khmer art in France.

Under very difficult conditions, Louis Delaporte achieved an archaeological harvest comprising statues, architectural fragments, and casts, along with topographical documents and drawings.

Some sites were literally looted, except for the Bayon temple and Angkor Wat which were spared from that plan. Everything was transported on elephants and rafts then loaded onto the gunboat Javelin to make its way back.

Delaporte said he either bought these pieces or traded for them with the local authorities, and that he had the support and approval of the Governor General of Indochina and King Norodom I of Cambodia. But the Louvre refused to welcome the hundred crates of antiquities when they landed at Toulon.

Ultimately, it was the Chateau of the Company Delaporte which managed to open a showroom to display this little-known art.

It was not until the Universal Exposition of 1878, and the exposure of the works at the Palace of Trocadero, that scientific and public interest was fully awakened.

Eventually, in 1882, a wing of the Trocadero was officially dedicated as a museum of Khmer art.

Delaporte organized a final trip to Cambodia in 1881 but he fell gravely ill and had to remain in France. This expedition brought about an enrichment of the museum’s collection.

In 1889, the Khmer museum became the Indochinese Museum and expanded to include all the arts of Southeast Asia.

As conservator, Louis Delaporte directed the museum until his retirement in 1924. He died the following year at the age of 83 and is buried at the cemetery of Pere-Lachaise.

Further information:

Angkor in Paris, it happened at World Expos VIDEO (bie-paris.org)

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