The charming stories behind the official gifts exchanged between Thailand and the United States are currently on show in the exhibition “Great and Good Friends – the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America, 18182018” showing at Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (QSMT) through June 30.
The museum recently presented a special talk on “Gifts from the United States”, given by experts from two leading museums where these historic gifts are originally displayed.
Suppawan Nongnut, curator of the Bangkok National Museum; and Praewchompoo Chunhaurai and Siriphen Worapassu, curator and archivist of King Prajadhipok Museum, illustrated memorable moments behind each of the gifts exchanged over the past two centuries.
Among the mementoes of friendship between the two countries are royal letters, royal portraits and portraits of the Presidents, the Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri, royal attire and textiles, religious icons, musical instruments, royal weapons, and other royal gifts.
Suppawan spoke about the portrait of George Washington attributed to Rembrandt Peale (17781860) and that of Franklin Pierce by an unknown artist, a gift from President Pierce to King Pinklao in 1856.
“After Mr Townsend Harris met King Mongkut to present a message from President Pierce at the Grand Palace, he visited King Pinklao at Bowon Satan Mongkol Palace or the Front Palace, which today houses the Bangkok National Museum. He presented a special gift to His Majesty. It was the portrait of the First President of the United States, President George Washington, an oil on canvas, showing the president dressed in military uniform. King Pinklao was a great admirer of Washington and even named his oldest son Prince George Washington after the President. The foreign publication as well as the note penned by Mr. Harris, mentioned the prince as Prince George Washington. He later became known by his royal title Krom Phra Ratchawang Bowon Wichaichan, and was the last prince of the Front Palace of the Chakri Dynasty.”
The curator added that there is a similar painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in USA by American artist Rembrandt Peale. He painted around 79 portraits of President George Washington.
The portrait of Franklin Pierce, the fourteenth president of the United States, has never been displayed prior to its showing at the Bangkok National Museum because it has never been registered in the system.
“This painting drew from the original photo and it can be seen that the painting made the president looked younger. The original photo was taken around the time he acquired the position in 1853. There’s a pencil signature around the chest area of the shirt which reads ‘Peale R’, which could be Rembrandt Peale. However, Peale was not known to sign his works in pencil and this painting cannot be verified as a Peale original,” Suppawan added.
After the exhibition, both paintings will move to the living room of Phra Ti Nang Isares Rajanusorn.
Siriphen explained that King Prajadhipok was the first Thai monarch to make an official state visit the United States in 1931.
“At this point, the diplomatic relationship had reached its 113th year and the official state visit by Their Majesties King Prajadhipok and Queen Rampaipannee was a great success. The world knew more about Thailand and evidently appreciated Their Majesties determination to improve and develop the country in terms of politics, science, and art and culture. Throughout the threemonth state visit, the Americans were able to read royal news in The New York Times almost every day. His Majesty King Prajathipok gave an interview in which he stated that the Thai King took care of his people like a father cares for a son but he could not make every child be happy. However, he determined to make the Siamese as happy as was possible. It was also reported that His Majesty King Rama VII was very clever and friendly towards the news reporter,” she noted.
The two experts from King Prajadhipok Museum further shared stories about Time magazine from April 20, 1932, Volume 17, Number 16, which featured the photo of His Majesty King Prajadhipok’s Accession to the Thorne titled the “Siam King is the centre of faith in Thailand”.
The second piece was about the welcome speech from Harvard College to King Prajadhipok during the state dinner on April 29, 1931.
To find out more about the exhibition and these historic gifts, check out www.GreatAndGoodGriends.com.