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07 November 2020EAST MEETS WEST: Indochina and France Cultural Exchange and Artistic Fusion

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EAST MEETS WEST: Indochina and France Cultural Exchange and Artistic Fusion Denise Heywood Saturday 07 November 2020


Special Interest/Study Afternoon in Two Parts 

at The Bakehouse, Bennett Park, Blackheath, London SE3      

When Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos became Indochina, part of France’s colonial empire, French scholars uncovered and studied their ancient cultural heritage. The Hindu and Buddhist temples of Angkor, Luang Prabang and Champa became the pearl in the crown of L’Indochine francais. But France also made Indochina visibly French, building elegant cities to rival Paris, such as Hanoi and Phnom Penh, their remnants today evoking nostalgia. French artists taught painting to a new generation of Vietnamese and were in turn influenced by their rich artistic traditions. Cambodian dancers visiting Paris inspired the sculptor Rodin and a generation of western ballet and performing arts. A new aesthetic emerged in art and architecture, a fusion of East and West.

Part 1: East Meets West Indochina & France: Vietnam & Laos

When Hanoi became the capital of Indochina in the 19th century, the French brought architects and urban planners to create an elegant city known as the Paris of Asia, with a French style Opera House, grand villas and mansions on wide tree lined boulevards. Their archaeologists studied the ancient ruins of Hindu Champa, building museums to house their artefacts. French artists opened a School of Fine Arts and a generation of Vietnamese artists learned of French Impressionism and Art Deco, in turn influencing their teachers with their indigenous silk painting, lacquer and calligraphy. Subjects included the gracefulness of women wearing traditional silk costumes.

French officers admired dream-like Luang Prabang, in the mountains of the north, filled with Buddhist temples. French villas and offices blended with Lao vernacular structures, resulting in a harmonious ensemble of religious and secular architecture. Fascinated by rituals and silk weaving traditions, the French promoted the living arts. Artists such as Alix Ayme painted murals in the Royal Palace showing the idyllic beauty of the town, while she, in turn, studied lacquer painting.

Part 2: East Meets West Indochina & France: Cambodia

With Angkor as the Jewel in the Crown of their empire, French scholars uncovered and studied the ancient temples dating from the 9th century. French artists, captivated by jungle clad ruins, immortalised them in paintings. Louis Delaporte made plaster casts of the temples which were reconstructed in France for their colonial exhibitions. French urban planners laid out Parisian-style city, Phnom Penh, with a Palace and Silver Pagoda. Adhering to their concept of la mission civilisatrice, they studied the living arts, especially classical dance of the royal court. In 1906 the royal dance troupe visited France where sculptor Auguste Rodin became besotted by them, doing 150 drawings and watercolours which made them famous in Europe, influencing, among others, the Ballets Russes. The revival after war of this exquisite living art, together with silk weaving and silversmithing, so beloved of the French, celebrates ancient artistic traditions that became part of the unique cultural exchange when East meets West in Indochine.

Registration: 1.45 pm

Start: 2 pm, interval for tea/coffee and cake, finish 4.15 pm.

Cost:  £27 for members  (£30 for non-members)

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Contact Nancy Bettelley: