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Romance, Crime and Political Awakening: Uncovering Hidden Narratives, a Century After André Malraux Plundered Banteay Srei

On 24 December 1923, André Malraux was detained in Phnom Penh, accused of stealing statues from Cambodia’s 10th century temple of Banteay Srei. Although his wife Clara Goldschmidt participated in the looting and was complicit in planning the operation from their Paris apartment, she was never in the dock. In July 1924, as André prepared to face justice in Indochina, Clara emerged a free woman and returned to France, through a combination of patriarchal mores and feminine wiles.

Aside from Clara, two other characters played pivotal roles in the aftermath of the incident. Cambodia-born George Groslier, Director of Cambodian Arts and Conservator of the museum at Phnom Penh, instigated Malraux’s prosecution, while Henri Parmentier, Parisian architect and chief of the Archaeological Service of the Hanoi-based École Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), tried to suppress news of the theft. André was lionised by Parmentier as a promising art historian but for Groslier he was another thief posing as a tourist to steal the treasures of his beloved Cambodia.

To date, the involvement of Goldschmidt, Groslier and Parmentier, in the planning or in the aftermath of the Banteay Srei theft, has escaped in-depth analysis, due to an embargo on documents requested by Groslier’s descendants. A large cache of documents from the period was made available to select researchers only in recent years. My presentation will rely on primary sources from archives in France (through privileged access), Cambodia and Vietnam, to shed light on the activities and motivations of these three individuals.

About the speaker

Lia Genovese holds a PhD from SOAS-University of London. She has lectured at Thammasat and Silpakorn Universities in Bangkok, at SOAS-University of London and in Cambodia. Her research interests include the archaeology of French Indochina, the Plain of Jars and other megalithic expressions in Laos and the region. Her current projects include a critical biography of the French archaeologist Madeleine Colani. Lia is a Member of the Siam Society’s Lecture Committee. She is the recipient of the IPPA Professional Prize awarded in November 2022. She has published in various academic journals and magazines and her publications are available as open access on her Academia page (


Thursday, 25 January 2024 at 19:00


Lecture Room, 4/Floor, The Siam Society


Members and Students (to undergraduate level) — Free of charge
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