Andre Malraux

In 1923 at Banteay Srei, the lower right hand figure (Devata) was sawn off the temple and stolen by Andre Malraux. It is interesting what is not said of the French novelist in Wikipedia, that he served part of a prison sentence in Cambodia for this act of vandalism. The excellent and beautiful visitor’s centre at the temple had the following to say about him:

In 1923, aged 22, the French avant-garde author Andre Malraux travelled to Cambodia with his wife Clara and a friend, Louis Chevasson. Masquerading as an official archeological exploration mission on the road linking Siam (Thailand) to Angkor, the three planned to saw off a bas-relief from newly discovered Banteay Srei temple and sell it to an antique collector. Malraux had suffered losses in the stock exchange, which ruined his wife financially. As a connoisseur of Asian art and a reader of the EFEO bulletin, Malraux found Parmentier’s 1919 article, and through it the discovery of Banteay Srei. Observing that the monument lay outside the Angkor archeological park, with an undefined legal status, the young author thought the adventure might be profitable.

Thus the three adventures looted the south-east, south west and north-east corner Devatas of Banteay Srei’s southern tower. They were arrested in July 1924, Malraux was sentenced to 3 years in jail, and his friend Louis to 18 months. Clara was acquitted, and returned to Paris to mobilise the intellectuals. On appeal, Malraux’s sentence was reduced to one year and suspended, and he returned to France in 1924. The looted bas-reliefs, at first going to the Phnom Penh National Museum, finally returned a few years later. These events inspired Malraux’s 1930 novel “La voie royale”. Following his exploits in Spain and the Second World War, Malraux advised Charles de Gaulle and became his Minister of Culture from 1959 to 1969.

It is inconceivable, after seeing the delicacy of the fine stone carvings, that the man who could so brutally vandalise the structures of Banteay Srei should then become the French Minister of Culture. A reminder that inappropriate political appointments are still happening and to this very day.

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