August 11, 2012

LLR (book): L'Art du Laos

Title:  L'Art du Laos
By:  Henri Parmentier
Publisher/Year: L'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient (EFEO), 1954, 1988
ISBN:  2855395429
Price:  $85-500USD
Lao book review - L'art du Laos by Henri Parmentier

Another 2 volume set of books from another late member of the L'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient.  Originally published in 1954 in French, they were printed posthumously by his wife Jeanne Parmentier-Leuba and his student Robert Dalet.  A newer reprinting done by EFEO in 1988 contains additional notes and minor corrections done by Madeleine Giteau (who is the author of another book called Art et Archéologie du Laos which I also wrote a review about - click here to read that one).  The newer editions are the ones that I own.

His drawings and engravings are what are most memorable for me.  You've probably seen them as they have been duplicated in other books and posters.  Many subsequent books on Lao art inevitably will have some of his sketches and illustrations in them.  In particular his detailed drawings of temples are great to look at.

Lonely Planet's Laos Guide book written by Joe Cummings mentions this book as well.  Cummings' criticism of the book indicates how definitive but condescending tone Parmentier takes on Lao art.  Additionally, even an article on EFEO's website from Oct 4 2006 discussing the book mentions how extreme Parmentier's criticsms become especially in regards to the form of Buddha images and statues.  His biggest complaint is that the Lao style Buddha was, in his opinion, too unnatural.

I believe Parmentier's opinion was due to at least a few things including, his ignorance of different schools of artistic style or the restrictions put on artisans of the day or the influences of Lao art by other cultures or kingdoms.  Or perhaps it was just his own personal preference that art had to be a certain way that made it difficult for him to really appreciate the Lao art form.  In spite of all that, it is therefore somewhat surprising that someone who could be that critical could end up writing such a comprehensive 2 volume book on the topic.  It makes you wonder.

Nevertheless, I still recommend these books for the drawings he did and the images of Lao art, temples and Buddhas from 1911 and 1927 onwards (which were the periods of when the original studies were done).  Obviously I don't recommend it on what what Parmentier had to say though not all of it was critical.

Here are some sample pages from the books:

Lao book review - L'art du Laos by Henri Parmentier, sample page

Lao book review - L'art du Laos by Henri Parmentier, sample page

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