Time Capsule Through Watercolor Flower Paintings

By The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

H.H. Princess Saisavali Bhiromya, Princess Suddhasininart (1923) by The National Archives of ThailandThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

H.H. Princess Saisavali Bhiromya, Princess Suddhasininart

Saisavali Bhiromya, the Royal Consort to King Rama V, moved to reside in Suan Sunandha because it had sufficient enough area for gardening. She was genuinely interested in arboriculture. She loved planting flowers, foliage plants, and fruits making her palace abundant with ravishing flora.

Orchid Farm, Saisavali Bhiromya’s Favorite Floral Farm (1868) by The National Archives of ThailandThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Orchid Farm, Saisavali Bhiromya’s Favorite Floral Farm

“Grandmother (Saisavali Bhiromya) planted every kinds of flora. There were hundreds of roses around the palace, thousands of orchids at her orchid farm, below the orchids were anthuriums that bloomed all year long,” stated  H.H. Vimolchatra, who used to reside at Suan Sunandha in ‘The Tale of the Ladies of the Court, 1980.’ 

Memorizing the Beauty of Flowers (1927) by The National Archives of ThailandThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Memorizing the Beauty of Flowers

Saisavali Bhiromya, the Royal Consort, went to the garden every day. If she spotted any trees or flowers she liked, she’d have her lady-in-waiting paint them. Since color camera was not yet invented back then, the best way to photograph the beauty of flowers is  through painting.

Excelling the Beauty of Flowers (2021-03-28) by Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Excelling the Beauty of Flowers

The watercolor paintings by Saisavali Bhiromya’s ladies-in-waiting were realistic. At present, all 131 discovered paintings are in the care of the Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University. Displays of the paintings are exhibited at Sai Suddha Nobhadol Museum and are categorized by 3 distinct characteristics: paintings focused only on the flowers, paintings with background, and paintings with compositions.

Paintings Only on the Flower (1917) by Ladies-in-waitingThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Paintings Only on the Flower

Paintings only the flower focused specifically on the details of the flower with precision. The artist would start with sketching the outline then filling in with watercolor to illustrate the petals and leaves. This technique created realism and sometimes even enhanced the details of the flowers.

Paintings with Background (1917) by Ladies-in-waitingThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Paintings with Background

The artist might paint with background by filling the canvas with color which helped emphasize the features of the flowers and also create the overall mood and tone of the whole picture. The backgrounds were filled with 2 techniques: brushing and dotting.  

Paintings with Composition (1917) by Ladies-in-waitingThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Paintings with Composition

Paintings with composition were those wherein the artists featured other objects: vases, tablecloths, wallpaper with perspective, etc. This helped create more storytelling within the picture; a bouquet in a vase created more content than a picture of a single  flower. Painting with composition acquired more technique since it demanded the artist to excel the details of other objects and also have to unify the whole painting with dimension and perspective.

Watercolor Painting Practice (2021-03-28) by Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Watercolor Painting Practice

The ladies-in-waiting might not be graduated with art degrees, but by discovering the noted phrase, ‘Academy of Art,’ in paintings, we can assume the ladies were taught by artists from the academy invited to the palace. 

The Historical Evidence of Flora (2021-03-28) by Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

The Historical Evidence of Flora

We can find Thai and English names of the flowers in some of the paintings, along with the dates and also the names of the artists. Thus, the paintings can be counted as a historical evidence indicating the flora planted at Suan Sunandha over a hundred years ago.

Watercolor Paintings Conservation (1917) by Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Watercolor Paintings Conservation

The watercolor paintings by Saisavali Bhiromya’s ladies-in-waiting are in the care of the Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University. They are conserved and looked after with scientific techniques to prevent them deteriorate through time. The oldest paintings ever discovered were ‘Lily’ dated March 3rd, 1917.

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