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Marc Leguay "The Gauguin of Laos"
(1910-2001)
Painter of Laos & Designer of Stamps and Banknotes of Laos

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Note
Most Laotian stamps exist also imperforate in issued and trial colours, and also in small presentation sheets in issued colours. 

Marc (short for Marcel-Louis) Leguay was born in Charleville (Ardennes, France) and educated at Evreux High School. It is unknown where he had his professional training, so it is reasonable to assume that he was autodidact. In his young youth he exhibited in Perpignan (France) and later in Spain, where he met Salvador Dali and Esteban Vicente. During one of these early exhibitions he was "discovered" by Mr. Pages, the then governor of Cochinchine and he accepted with pleasure the governor's invitation for a free 3-months stay in Laos. Later Leguay referred to this meeting as "one of the major events of my life". 

Photograph of Marc Leguay.

Consequently, in January 1936 -- at the age of 26 -- Leguay left France for Indo-China. Over a period of three months where he was hosted by the Laotian government, and lived in the Governmental Palace, he experienced the easy French lifestyle which, according to him, had nothing to do with "colonialism". 

With a little borrowed financial fund, he travelled the country in an old car, driving along the muddy roads from Khong river (a tributary to Mekong river) in south Laos, to Hanoi and Tonkin, and an elderly rich Chinese let him dispose of a junk in order to explore and sail the canals and discover the landscape of Cochinchine. 

  • Photograph of Marc Leguay. 

Leguay's name was first known to a few initiated in 1951. At this period, the secretary of Laotian Post, Prince Souvanna Phouma, asked Leguay (who by then had already lived in Laos for some 15 years) to make designs for Laotian postage stamps. The first national series of Laotian stamps was released on 13th November 1951, and until recently assumed works by Leguay, but towards the end of his life, during a last visit to his autobiographer, he denied the fatherhood of these stamps. 

The first known series of Leguay-stamps was issued on 13th April 1952, representing "Femme Lao" [Laotian Woman], and depicts his second wife Nang Sang Vane, engraved by the French engraver Jean Pheulpin (1907-1991), designer and engraver of French and Laotian postage stamps (the latter during the period 1952-1967.  Laos 1952. Laotian Woman (Nang Sang Vane). Scott #12. Laos 1952. Air post. Weaving. Scott #C4.
Laos 1971. Souvenir sheet. Reprint of Scott #12. Laos 1957. Five different Leguay-stamps on commercially used cover.

In 1952-53 appeared a set of seven postage due stamps, both designed by Marc Leguay, and the year 1954 celebrated the Jubilee of S.M. King Sisavang Vong was celebrated by a postage stamp designed by Marc Leguay. 

Laos 1952. Vat-Sisaket Monument. Postage Due. Scott #J1. Laos 1953. Postage Due. Boat and Raft. Scott #J7. Laos 1954. Jubilee of S.M. King Sisavang Vong. Scott # 25.
  • Laos 1952. Postage Due. Vat-Sisaket Monument.

  • Laos 1953. Postage Due. Boat and Raft. 

  • Laos 1954. Jubilee of S.M. King Sisavang Vong. See also the king's portrait at the bottom of this page (not designed by Leguay). 

But the three months passed only too fast, and by March 1936 he had to leave for France with a heavy heart. Without a word to anybody, he disembarked the homebound steamship, vanished into thin air, and now became a wanted person by the French authorities. He had escaped to Khong Island in Southern Laos, where the first trace of him appeared in 1937. He continued to paint, in general the landscapes of south Laos, and in particular those of Khong. It was governor Pages who finally found him there. Luckily the governor was a good-hearted and intelligent person, and after having admired young Marc's paintings he understood and agreed that he should be allowed to stay in Laos and fulfill his lifework there. Marc stayed in Khong for 10 years, where he founded the Laotian Academy of Art. The paintings pictured on the below two sets of each three stamps were all painted during this period. 

Laos 1969. Air post. Hair Dressing. Scott #C62 Laos 1969. Air post. Village Market. Scott #C63. Laos 1970. Air post. Tree on the Bank of Mekong River. Scott #C64.
Laos 1972. Air post. Village Foot Path. Scott #C72. Laos 1970. Air post. Rice Field in Rainy Season. Scott #C73.. Laos 1970. Air post. Village Elder. Scott #C74.

He married, in 1946, his second wife Nang Sang Vane, portrayed in the first series of Laotian national stamps (see stamp at the top of this page) and this marriage became the second major event in his life. Thanks to her, who was also his muse, he disclosed a dormant talent for creating paintings dominated by harmony and quietness, so-to-say representing the Soul of Laos and its inhabitants. 

Laos 1972. Air post. Workers in Rice Field. Scott #C96. Laos 1972. Air post. Women and Water Buffalo in Rice Field (Water Bufflalo in Water). Scott #C98. Laos 1972. Air post. Rainy Season in Village. Scott #C97. Laos 1972. Air post. Rainy Season in Village. Scott #C99. Laos 1972. Air post. Mother and Child. Scott #C100.
Laos 1957. Regular Issue. Rice Cultivation. Harvesting Rice. Scott #37. Laos 1957. Rice Cultivation. Regular Issue. Drying Rice. Scott #38. Laos 1957. Regular Issue. Rice Cultivation. Winnowing Rice. Scott #39. Laos 1957. Regular Issue. Rice Cultivation. Polishing Rice. Scott #40.

Later, his paintings of persons and portraits would flower in plentitude. Such persons were often among his closest, and today Leguay is often referred to as "The Gauguin of Laos". Later in his life he settled  permanently in the town of Sala, close to the border of Cambodia. 

Laos 1957. Laotian Musican Instruments. Regular issue. Rang-nat Player. Scott #34. Laos 1957. Laotian Musican Instruments. Regular Issue.So-player. Scott #35. Laos 1957. Laotian Musical Instruments. Regular issue. Khene-player. Scott #36.
Laos 1957. Air post. Musical Instruments. So-player. Scott #C25. Laos 1957. Air post. Musical Instruments. Khong Vong-player. Scott #C24. Laos 1957. Air post. Musical Instruments. Kong-player. Scott #C26.

It was his wives who were most often his sitters. In 1945 Marc Leguay was kept in prison by the Japanese. Returning to his village after the war, he found his house plundered, probably by the Japanese. Broke, he decided, in 1947, to go to Vientiane, where he found employment as an art teacher. At this period he changed completely his style, now painting nudes with his Thai girl friend as sitter. In 1976, after the overthrow of the Laotian monarchy, he and his girlfriend retired to a small Thai village, where he remained until his death at age 91. 

Leguay's paintings have also been used on at least one Laotian banknote

Laos 1957. Banknote (back side) of a 100 Kip banknote, based on a Leguay-painting from the 1940s or 1950s.

The collaboration between Leguay and Pheulpin, who never met in real life, has given birth to original artworks and mutual inspiration. Thanks to Leguay, Laos became Pheulpin's "favourite country", and Leguay is quoted to have said that Pheulpin liked very much to work together with me, because my designs were ready for engraving and needed no modification. Pheulpin is well known to French philatelists, but Leguay is practically unknown in France, and only to collectors of Laotian postage stamps. One can truly state that nobody is a prophet in his own country. Click here to see more philatelic information about Pheulpin's die proofs.

Leguay never had a stamp collection, he preferred to look at his own paintings. By the end of his life, his mind changed and he was happy to receive a copy of each of his stamps, collected and offered by his friends. 

An outstanding example of Pheulpin's engraving is seen on this Laotian air post stamp, celebrating the admission of Laos to the UPU (International Postal Union) on 13th May 1952.

When Laos achieved independence from France, the king of Luang Prabang, Sisavang Vong, became the head of state for the Kingdom of Laos.  

  • Kingdom of Laos 1952. Air Post Stamp. UPU-emblem and portrait of King Sisavang Vong. The Kingdom of Laos was admitted to the UPU on 13th May 1952. Engraving by Jean Pheulpin after photographs. .

Kingdom of Laos 1952. Air Post Stamp. UPU-emblem and portrait of King Sisavang Vong. 

The article on this page is partly excerpted from Wikipedia (in French), translated and edited for publication on this site by the webmaster.

Many thanks to Mr. Eli Moallem (Israel), member of Association Internationale des Collectionneurs de Timbres-Poste du Laos (A.I.C.T.P.L), for his invaluable inspiration and help in setting up this page, including submission of all images, which are copyrighted by him. 

Sources and links:

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