The recently renovated National Gallery remains a small but charming museum with a European style design
The National Gallery differs greatly from other art institutions. It mostly shows historical paintings of Thailand, and the fact that the building is the former Royal Mint Building—a European style construction designed in 1902 by Italian engineer Carlo Allegri—confers a kind of solemnity to the exhibited pieces.
The layout of the museum is also rather unique. The oldest paintings are located on the upper floor of the main building, with a series of beautiful miniatures dating back to the mid 19th century. The ground floor, meanwhile, hosts 19th and 20th century painting, while the lower level is dedicated to contemporary arts.
Secular art is very recent in Thailand. It dates back from the time of Rama V when Siam adopted many of Europe’s customs and fashions. Among them, figurative Western-style painting became popular.
The most interesting of the portrait series are those of the Royal Family, and assorted nobles, painted between the end of the 19th century and about 1920. They testify of the attempt of Siamese painters to adopt a Western style. In addition, the choice of dark colours on the wall—burgundy red for the upper floor, dark green on the ground floor—adds a distinctive elegance.
Another current highlight is the hall of sculptures, showing art pieces from the 1940s to the late 1960s. This was a time where the influence of Italian artist and sculptor Corrado Feroci—better known under his Thai name Silpa Bhirasri—was deeply evident in Thailand’s modern art movement. The rigidity of some of the sculptures is very similar to the sculptures produced during the same period of time in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union.
A special room is currently dedicated to paintings by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The King was a rather talented painter and produced dozens of portraits of his wife, Queen Sirikit. Influences of cubism and new realism are perceptible in the King’s portraits.
To complement the permanent collection, the National Gallery regularly organizes temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, showing some striking art pieces which demonstrate that Thailand’s art scene is livelier than ever.
Words and photos by Luc Citrinot
4 Chao Fa Rd.
Open: Wed-Sun, 9am-4pm
Tel: 02 281 2224
(photos inside are not allowed)