Thailand showcases rare art display


LONDON (eTN) – A demon-faced dance mask with gold and painted mirror work, carved ivory, wood and lacquer offering dishes overlaid with mother of pearl and the unusual porcelain Bencharong (‘Five Color’) vessels made for the Thai court and nobility in the kilns of China – these are just some art treasures from Thailand which are being displayed for the first time at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

The newly created V&A display features the museum’s finest Thai Buddhist sculptures in bronze and stone spanning the period from the 7th to the 19th centuries together with works of decorative art in a wide variety of media associated both with the Thai court and with monasteries. The range of the display will be further, extended by the inclusion of a painting illustrating a Jataka scene from a former life of the Buddha and an astrologer’s illustrated handbook. A spectacular feature is a late 19th century diamond encrusted belt and pendant necklace on loan to the museum from the Thai royal family and formerly owned by Queen Saowabha Pongsri, Queen to King Rama 5th of Thailand (1868-1910).

Elizabeth Moore a specialist in Southeast Asian art at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London was ecstatic about the collection. She said, “The display transforms the perception of the later arts of Thailand and showcases the long and long and close relationship of the monarchy and Buddhism in the country.”

The new display is the result of nearly a year of hard work behind the scenes of Thailand’s ambassador to London, Kitty Wasinondh. The ambassador became aware that these priceless treasures had been languishing in the V&A’s archives and was determined that a way should be found to bring these to the attention of the public in UK. He was especially keen to ensure that the rare royal treasures should be accessible to the public on a permanent basis. With funding from the Royal Thai Government, the display has been created to celebrate the 80th birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. It draws together for the first time the most significant and beautiful works of Thai sculpture, painting and the decorative arts in the V&A’s collection.

The historic origins of the V&A’s Thai collection lie in acquisitions made largely during the period from the mid 19th to the late 20th centuries. More recently important acquisitions of early sculpture and metalwork from the 7th to the 9th centuries, including pieces from the collection of Alexander Biancardi, have further strengthened these holdings. The collection has been additionally enhanced in the last few years by the bequest of objects formerly belonging to Doris Duke, the renowned American collector of South East Asian art.

Bhumibol, the name of the King, in Thai means “strength of the land.” As Thailand grapples with political uncertainty at home and the impact of the global economic turmoil the Thai people are turning to the revered King to inspire confidence and provide stability. As in other countries, Thailand is also bracing itself against the possibility that its profitable tourism industry may suffer. Since the British and Thai royal families have links that go back several generations, the Thai ambassador is hoping that exposure to his country’s art will tempt British tourists to visit Thailand to see more of what the country has to offer.