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Indochine Francaise

  • Author: BOUCHER, Lucien
  • Publisher: Association Nationale de l'Indochine francaise
  • Engraver: Perceval Paris (Printers)
  • Date: c1945-6
  • Dimensions: sheet: 66 x 100 cms / image: 59 x 90 cms


Highly decorative poster of French Indochina c1945-6, designed by renowned poster artist, Lucien Boucher [1889-1971]

About this piece:

Indochine Francaise

Vibrant colour-printed poster, professionally backed with Japanese tissue for better preservation & presentation. One short vertical tear at upper right corner, expertly & invisibly closed and reinforced on verso. Adjacent small area of paper loss at upper right corner on sheet edge in blank margin only, expertly infilled with new paper. In all a well-preserved & attractive example.

This striking & highly decorative poster map of French Indochina was designed by the renowned French affichiste and illustrator, Lucien Boucher [1889-1971]. Printed by the firm of Perceval, Paris, it was originally commissioned by the Association Nationale de L’Indochine Francaise. 

The original publication date of the poster is hard to determine precisely. Many authorities have dated it to circa 1938-40, but available evidence suggests this is highly unlikely. The Association Nationale de L’Indochine Francaise appears to have been founded under the auspices of the Free French administration in Algiers in August 1943. Its stated objectives were to try and maintain an enduring & unbreakable bond between France and her South East Asian territories throughout the duration of war and during its inevitably problematic aftermath.

Most of France’s South East Asia colonial administrations had remained nominally loyal to the pro-Nazi Vichy regime during the early years of the war, enduring an often uneasy relationship with local Japanese occupation forces who had moved into French Indochina in December 1941. With D-Day in June 1944 and the Liberation of Paris two months later, French Indochina’s ongoing relationship with its now newly liberated mother country & its new former Free French leader, De Gaulle, was further challenged. The sitation however was transformed in early 1945 when South East Asia witnessed the sudden & calamitous disintegration of France’s long-established colonial presence in the region. The Japanese, facing imminent defeat in Burma & the Philippines and increasingly fearful of an American landing in French Indochina, unleashed Meigo Sakusen (Operation Bright Moon), a coup d’etat in March 1945, which initiated unprovoked attacks by Japanese troops across French Indochina & the imprisonment of all French administrative officials and military personnel. According to the French diplomat Jean Sainteny, the Japanese actions “wrecked a colonial enterprise that had been in existence for 80 years”.

It seems highly that likely Boucher’s poster was an emotive propaganda vehicle published in Paris at this highly sensitive & politically uncertain juncture to underline the enduring cultural bonds & historical links between the newly liberated French homeland in Europe and her longstanding South East Asian territorial outposts, now in the harsh grip of Japanese occupation or under the equally hostile rule of newly installed Japanese puppets & proxies in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Boucher’s vision of French Indochina is a richly exotic & vibrantly colourful portrait of peaceful, benificent colonialism. Presented as a geographically integrated entity, without any regional borders or boundaries between its constituent territories, it is a region seemingly entirely untouched by World War Two. The only visible manifestation of conflict is the poweful battleship whose somewhat menacing & shadowy presence disturbs the otherwise peaceful waters of the South China Sea. Boucher focuses on the richness of indigenous flora and fauna, with attractive vignettes of elephants, snakes, monkeys, deer, tigers & leopards. The region’s important natural resources are also highlighted, with beautifully presented scenes of rice planting, farming, logging and mining. Nor does Boucher’s Indochinese vision ignore the wealth & richness of the region’s own indigenous history and culture, as equally striking illustrations reference the  unique archaelogical sites & temple ruins of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat & Kampong Cham and Vietnam’s ancient Imperial City of Hué (later the scene of terrible fighting during the Vietnam War’s 1968 Tet Offensive). Offshore, numerous oriental junks and fishing vessels ply their trade amid shoals of fish, turtle and a giant sea monster. A stunningly designed large compass spur upper right is counterbalanced by an equally striking title cartouche lower left, whose orientaliste motifs and decoration further emphasize the region’s exotic indigenous culture & much-prized commercial riches.

Ernest-Lucien (better known as Lucien) Boucher was born in Chartres on Boxing Day 1889. His early artistic career began at the Ecole de céramique based in the important porcelain manufacturing centre of Sèvres. He served with the French Army in the trenches in World War One. Subsequently taken prisoner, he spent much of his German captivity at the Mersenburg POW camp in Saxony. With fellow POWs Marcel Seheur (publisher) and Mario Menier (author), the trio would compile a fascinating account of their wartime captivity in Images de la Vie des Prisonniers de Guerre [Paris, 1920] wonderfully illustrated with 21 colour plates by Boucher. Returning to Paris after the Armistice, he began work as an illustrator and cartoonist for several satirical magazines, including, most frequently, Fantasio & the better-known La Rire. In 1921 he exhibited at the important Parisian Salon d’Automne and in ensuing years at the equally prestigious Salon de l’Araingnée. Increasingly inspired by surrealism, his innovative designs as a poster artist promoted films of the newly emergent avant-garde cinema as well as fashion houses, department stores & banks and attracted increasing attention. He was also extremely popular woodlock engraver & book illustrator during the 1930s. From the mid-1930s he began a long & successful association with the recently established Air France [1933], designing a series of highly decorative posters – antique-style World planispheres – on which the ever expanding global reach of the new French airline was progressively mapped out. His vibrant designs were also used for the Air France brand through promotional goods such as luxury scarves & decorative ash trays. Other commissions during this period included the French National Lottery for whom he to work during the Vichy wartime regime & subsequent post-war years, right through to the late 1950s. After a long and highly successful artistic career, he died in Paris in 1971.