Bangkok, Thailand 1830 – 1891
H. M. King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, on his second coronation, October 1873
Materials & Technique: photographs, albumen prints, albumen silver photograph Support: on card
Francis Chit was the first prominent Thai studio photographer. He was introduced to photography at the court of King Mongkut (Rama IV) in the 1850s, opening his own studio in Bangkok in 1863 and later bringing his sons into the business. In the 1850s King Mongkut had received official gifts of cameras and daguerreotype portraits of Queen Victoria and the American president, and moved to have his court officials learn the process. He was then able to reciprocate with gifts of portraits of himself, his family and court officials in both traditional Thai dress and various forms of Western-style military uniforms. These were strategic diplomatic gifts intended to modernise the image of the monarchy and establish Thai royals as equals on the international stage.
The keen patronage of photography was continued by King Mongkut’s son, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who had been subject to a regent following his father’s death in 1868 and was crowned on 16 November 1873 after reaching maturity. Chit and a number of foreign photographers took official photographs of the coronation. These were distributed by the King but also sold by Chit and other studios. The young King looks imprisoned by the heavy and hugely expensive gold coronation robes but soon gained real control of his country. He proved even more effective than his father in modernising Thailand and preventing invasion by foreign colonial powers. King Chulalongkorn’s reign was extensively documented by foreign and local photographers and the King and his sons took up photography themselves in the early twentieth century, a tradition passed down to his grandson, the present-day King Bhumibol (Rama IX).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014