Victor Collin de Plancy
Victor Émile Marie Joseph Collin de Plancy (1853–1924) was a French diplomat, bibliophile, and art collector.
He was a career French diplomat who served most of his working life in Korea and whose private collection of Far Eastern art and antiquities went on to form the core of the Korean collection at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Collin de Plancy served for nearly a decade starting in 1884 as French Minister to Korea. His accumulated books became part of the core of the Korean collection of the French Bibliothèque Nationale, and his accumulated artworks became part of the core of the Musée Guimet in Paris.
Collin de Plancy was born on November 22, 1853 in Plancy, a small town near Troyes in the Champagne region of eastern France, the son of Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy, a Jesuit priest and prolific writer on the occult whose name is still much more familiar in France than that of his son. Despite the name, Collin de Plancy was not of noble pedigree. Against the strict laws of lineage Victor’s father had illicitly added the ‘de Plancy’ to his family name of Collin in a move that would later bring accusations against the son.
As a very young man Victor Collin de Plancy studied in Paris at the Ecole de l'Immaculée Conception before gaining entrance to the prestigious École des Langues Orientales Vivantes, where he trained in Chinese, graduating in 1877. Though he had ambitions for entering the diplomatic corps, he was posted instead to Peking as a junior interpreter, often a preliminary step to seeking consular duties. Prevented by his stationing in Peking from taking the requisite exam for consular assignment (administered only at Paris), it was 1883 before he finally received his coveted consular position, when he was named consul second class at Peking. In 1884 he was promoted to acting French consul at Shanghai, where he served during the Sino-French War, distinguishing himself by services rendered to a cholera-stricken French fleet harbored in Shanghai during the conflict for which he was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor. It was during this posting that Collin de Plancy served briefly as the first French consul to Korea, when relations were opened with that country in 1887. He would go on to serve as French consul in Japan before returning to Korea in 1896 as the resident French consul in that country. Except for extended sick leaves in 1899–1900 and 1905–1906, Collin de Plancy would spend the years from 1896 to 1906 in Seoul, where he would eventually be promoted full minister. He would serve only briefly as French minister to Bangkok in 1906 before requesting full retirement 1907.
The young Collin de Plancy was described alternately as laborious, impartial, and instructed, while being lauded as well for his more social qualities – charm, elegance of manners, impeccable taste, and perhaps most importantly, amiability. The introduction to his collected papers in the French Foreign Ministry notes the qualities for which Collin de Plancy seemed best known, “his tact, courtesy, and refined manners” and as one who excelled in “issues of etiquette…but who rarely ventured into the realm of general ideas.” In Seoul he became known for his charming garden parties. Particularly well received were his “chrysanthemum festivals” held every autumn in the gardens of the French legation, during which guest strolled the peaceful grounds in the midst of the budding capital, admiring the park with its greenhouses of flowers. In 1896 de Plancy had constructed an elegant European style compound for the French legation, filling it with antiques from the Chateau de Chenonceaux. He was himself a collector; his respectable assortment of Asian art and ceramics was eventually donated to the Musée Guimet in Paris where it forms a core part of the Korean collection. Victor Collin de Plancy never married.
Collin de Plancy’s diplomatic acumen proved a boon for French interests in Korea during the last decade or so of the 19th century. He became occupied in procuring the concession for of the Seoul-Uiju line for Five-Lilles, personally negotiating with the Korean foreign minister. Along with the above railway concession he also successfully petitioned for mining rights on behalf of French companies along the proposed railroad. However, other efforts spearheaded by Collin de Plancy to gain railway concessions to Mokpo and Wonsan were not so successful.
Collin de Plancy was successful in raising the French visibility and prestige in other realms more successfully than in railroads and mining. As chief French diplomat in Korea, and enjoying a wide range of contacts, Collin de Plancy was the natural hinge for the expansion of French influence. Collin de Plancy helped a certain Mr. Saltarel establish official contacts in Seoul upon his arrival there as representative of several French companies in early 1898. Saltarel eventually gained a mining concession in Korea. In late 1899 a French military attaché in China, Commander Polyeucte Vidal, was also brought in through Collin de Plancy’s efforts to assess the state of the Korean arsenal and make recommendations as to its improvement and the establishment of a Korean arms industry. Eventually the French, represented by Vidal, would join with the Russians in a mutual campaign to reorganize the Korean arsenal. Collin de Plancy also brought in an expert from the Sevrès Ceramic Works to recommend ways of modernizing and expanding the Korean porcelain industry. But France’s most visible representative, behind Collin de Plancy himself, was undoubtedly E. Clemencet, who had been brought to Korea in 1898, shortly after Korea’s entrance into the International Postal Union, to organize a modern Korean postal service. Upon the bureau’s opening in January 1900 Clemencet sent the first international letter to Collin de Plancy (then on leave in France), as the “only fitting homage” to the man who had contributed so much to making the service a reality. The French consul also proved instrumental in paving the way for Korea's participation at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900.
In 1906, shortly after Korea became a protectorship of Japan, Collin de Plancy left Korea for a posting in Bangkok, Thailand. He went into retirement the following year. After his death in 1924 a large part of his art and book collection made its way into the possession of the Musée Guimet, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and the Collège de France.
Collin de Plancy was also an amateur naturalist and authored several texts on the insects and reptiles of his native France.
- Le musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet s' enrichit d'un bronze coréen de l'époque Koryo P Cambon – La Revue du Louvre et des musées de France, 2005 – cat.inist.fr "... Constituées grâce à la mission de Charles Varat en Corée, en 1888, et aux apports de Victor Collin de Plancy alors en poste à la Légation de France à Séoul (1888–1890, 1896–1906), elles comptent dès le début quelques pièces très rares en dehors de Corée."
- Korean Mission p. 32., p. 32, at Google Books; excerpt, "Treaty and Diplomatic Relations Between Korea and France. Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation dated June 4, 1886."
- Daniel Kane, "The Empire of Great Han at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition." Seoul Journal of East Asian Studies 4:2 (August 2004):47.
- Roudaut, François. Le Fonds Collin de Plancy déposé à la Bibliothèque de Troyes. Genève: 1994, 13.
- Roudaut, 13.
- Kane, 48.
- Émile Bourdaret, En Corée (Paris:Plon Nourrit et Cie., 1904):97.
- Kane, 48.
- Kane, 49.
- Roudaut, 87–88.
- Korean Mission to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, D.C., 1921–1922. (1922). Korea's Appeal to the Conference on Limitation of Armament. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office. OCLC 12923609