Housing History

How the Cham Museum in Danang was founded

The Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture houses the largest collection of Cham artifacts in the world. The museum was established at the end of the 19th century by the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (EFEO), displaying around 300 sandstone and terracotta sculptures gathered from mostly Central Vietnam. The building itself was designed by two French architects, Delaval and Auclair, imitating designs and features specific to Champa towers and temples. EFEO’s mission was to preserve the historic monuments of French Indochina, and the only way to do this was to create museums. This task was therefore written from the start into the school’s program.

From the school’s earliest years of activity, the establishment of the archeological inventory of Indochina and the systematic clearing of large groups of monuments such as My Son and Dong Duong in Champa provided a steady supply of pieces to the collections. Objects brought to light when the monuments were cleaned up and restored – mostly statues and inscriptions – had to find a home if they could not be protected on-site. The first half of the 19th century saw eight museums founded and managed by EFEO, all of which are still functioning today, including the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture, formerly the Musée Henri Parmentier.

The first collection was accumulated between 1885 and 1892 by Charles Lemire, a French resident of Quang Nam. The second collection of statues was added by Camille Paris, a former post office official who became a colonist and then a corresponding member of the school. The two collections were displayed at Le Jardin de Tourane on a small hill by the Han River. They were then augmented by contributions from Fathers Cadière and Durand, and from Prosper Odend’hal. From 1900, further material came from the surveying and excavations conducted by the school’s archeological department, directed by Henri Parmentier. However, the pieces were showing signs of damage and deterioration caused by visitors touching them – and negotiations to obtain a building from the government to protect the artifacts proved fruitless. Finally, the school used its own funds to finance the construction of a building, designed by Parmentier, that was worthy of the collections it was to house.

Although construction was finished in 1916, its inauguration did not take place until the end of the First World War. The objects, which were kept in EFEO’s museum in Saigon until after the war, were then transferred there. Parmentier drew up the first catalogue, which was published in the Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (BEFEO) in 1919. Dr. Albert Sallet, who was an amateur collector and a corresponding member of the EFEO, was a generous donor to the collections, and was in charge of their conservation between 1926 and 1931. The museum also profited from expeditions made by Jean-Yves Claeys, an architect and the new Head of the EFEO Archeological Service, to Thap Mam in 1934 and to Tra Kieu in 1937. Because of Claeys, the objects were classified more rigorously by site (and therefore by period). In 1936 Emperor Bao Dai inaugurated the greatly enlarged building and named it Musée Henri Parmentier.

Today it has been enriched by new additions and is now known as the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture. A catalogue was published in 1997 in collaboration with the EFEO. The Cham sculpture exhibition (Trésor du Vietnam, l’Art du Champa) held in Paris at the Musée Guimet in 2005, brought together statues from the Guimet and Da Nang museums. The latter were recently renovated: a studio to restore statues was created in 2001 with the help of the EFEO and the personnel of the National Museum of Phnom Penh. Many pedestals and sculptures collected there were restored. From 2005, other artifacts came from Dong Duong and My Son sites to be repaired. At the same time, the western wing of the museum was extended. All this work was shown during a special exhibition at the museum. Then from 2006 to 2009, a new restoration campaign aimed to set up new spaces dedicated to the sculptures of the My Son and Dong Duong sites. In a few months, Da Nang will celebrate the museum’s centennial anniversary.

To learn more about the history of the museum, read A Century in Asia, The History of the École Française d’ExtrêmeOrient 1898-2006, published by EFEO.

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