Lot 1027
  • 1027

Thawan Duchanee

600,000 - 800,000 HKD
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  • Thawan Duchanee
  • Thai Lanna Farmhouse
  • Signed
  • Oil on board
  • 100 by 180 cm.; 39 1/4 by 70 3/4 in.


Acquired directly from the Artist

Private Asian Collection


Tourist Organization of Thailand, Bangkok, October 1962


The work is in overall good condition. The paint layers are intact and the impastos fresh. Scattered signs of discoloration, but this is due to the age of the work and does not effect the overall quality of the painting. Under ultraviolet light inspection there are minor signs of restoration, notably towards the top left corner (in the clouds), and the lower right bottom corner (near the steps of the farmhouse). However this is not visible upon close inspection. Framed in the artist's original frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Within Southeast Asia each country has undergone its own artistic birth and maturation throughout the decades. Part of this creative development stemmed from foreign rule in the region, with outside influences bringing with them new modes of creative expression. Thailand has the unique role of remaining independent from colonialism. This position has solidified their placement in a political schema of things, however within an artistic framework, modern art in Thailand may be seen as elementary per se when compared with the neighbouring countries.

Thawan Duchanee was one artist whose oeuvre challenged local paradigms, while subsequently placing a global spotlight upon Thai modern art. His collection of works disrupted the status quo of creative expression that was deemed acceptable and appropriate for artists. Much of the modernist movement was underlined by Buddhist ideals that were seen as representational, rather than as analytical. Thawan’s application of styles such as Cubism and Surrealism, with the latter notably so in his Buddhist-inspired artworks, challenged these creative values. “The Thai spirit is abstract; it is not the symbols of Thailand. I have one philosophy in all my life: to create art. [Inspiration] made visible using intelligent activity. I want to show something people don’t want to see— themselves”, the artist said1.

The present painting Thai Lanna Farmhouse is a very early piece from his oeuvre for it was created in 1962, one year before Thawan graduated from Silapakorn University, and already gaining traction in the Thai art community. Originally from Chiang Rai, much of the works created during the late 1950s and early 1960s were influenced by his personal rapport with the northern “lanna” tradition and people. The layman and the landscape were highly favoured subject matters within the early paintings. It should be noted that this period in Thai art history witnessed many artists “[looking] back to tradition for revitalization in [society]. The romanticisation of tradition in… Thai art [becoming] evident in the search for Utopia, Arcadia and nostalgic yearning2.

 Partly a representation of the nationalism felt amongst artists of this era, works of such nature were also viewed as social criticism directed towards the government. By the mid-1970s these themes would take on a greater meaning amidst the military coup d’état and political infighting that followed soon afterwards. The present work touches upon similar themes, with the farmhouse seen as an extension of rural existence, a celebration of grass roots identity and values. “Art is not a superficial feeling of happiness, sadness, or a mood counter, but rather the evidence of the conclusion of a human intellect. Art is hard to penetrate into, and men usually shun thought, but with art we feed our soul and intellect”, Thawan said.3

Thai Lanna Farmhouse is an important piece in the artist’s career, for it was exhibited at the Tourist Organization of Thailand (TOT)’s first painting contest held in October 1962 in Bangkok. The painting was part of a special grouping by the artist that was dedicated to a northern village.4 Thawan’s collection of works ultimately won first prize at the event, and the present painting was awarded a yellow ribbon for its achievement. Two years later Thawan held his first one-man exhibition at the Bangkapi Gallery in Bangkok to much acclaim. The TOT painting contest was an important event in Thai art history, for it ignited public support for local artists, and established the growth of the country’s art scene. Thus the 1960s and 1970s were seen as the peak of the Thai modern art movement, with Thawan as one of the forerunners of this movement.

At Silapakorn University the artist was mentored under Silpa Bhirasri, formerly named Corrado Feroci, an Italian sculptor who came to Thailand in the 1930s to work for the monarchy. He was respected as the ‘Father of Modern Thai Art’, and founder of Silapakorn University. He passed away in 1962 after three decades of nurturing artistic expression. Therefore while Thailand remained untouched by foreign rule, it should be noted that the country’s respect towards artistic thinking is largely due in part to Silpa’s teachings.

In 1964 Thawan received a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam. In Europe he discovered the old masters, actively learning about their aesthetics, varying styles, and painterly methods. While abroad he had several one-man shows that further introduced his Thai paintings to an international audience.

I think I grew up and matured as an artist there [in the Netherlands]. At home in Thailand, we were taught to be skilled craftsman. Nobody taught you to think. Over there they taught you to know how to think,” he said. “I came back home and I saw the way art was used to convey the concept of Buddhism with paintings of temples, sanctuaries, or Buddha images. Anyone could do that…. Artwork is my love made visible; it represents everything in the infinite universe materialized through my imagination”.5

Thawan’s artistic style evolved dramatically throughout his career, and his oeuvre is testimony to an artist who experimented with different subject matters, themes, styles and aesthetics. Together with Buddhist philosophy and Southeast Asian mythology, he found inspiration from a variety of sources, including Hieronymous Bosch, Michelangelo, Paul Gauguin, Picasso, and Salvador Dali. Each of these individuals has left their mark upon Thawan’s oeuvre, from minimal references to latent appropriation of artists whom he greatly admired and respected. Artworks from the 1960s with their vibrant hues and focus on nature and rural life are reminiscent of Gauguin’s own colourful landscapes and figurative works. Colour is a key component in Thai Lanna Farmhouse, while the painting Prayer for an Ill Member of the Meo Tribe allude to Gauguin’s work Nevermore. The cubist-inspired painting Boats makes reference to Picasso, while The Suvannasama Jataka finds inspiration within Michelangelo’s drawings of the male physique.

However it was Thawan’s use of religious symbols to critique modern Thai values and inspire a discourse that garnered the strongest reaction from the public. Paintings such as Mara Confrontation and Power of Land, illustrate Thawan’s intent of creating a “new artistic representation that departed from the traditional style of paintings related to Buddhist and Hindu cosmological conceptions”6. Such works viewed Buddhism in a brand new light, appropriating Surrealist and animal imagery into ancient scriptures and morality plays.

From the early 1960s and onwards, the paintings changed and adapted with Thawan’s own philosophical growth as an artist. This is most evident when looking at Thai Lanna Farmhouse created in his youth before studying abroad, paired together with the visual allegories that defined the later works. Throughout his lifetime Thawan continued to explore different styles and aesthetics, as well as challenge his own value system as a way to find meaning within everyday human existence. “Art is only a medium for enlightenment. The goal is not technological achievement, but to achieve nibbana; not victory by human activity, but victory over the self, passion, greed [and] ignorance”, the artist said.7

1 Russell Marcus, Thawan Duchanee: Modern Buddhist Artist, Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 2013, pg. 125

2 Caroline Turner, Tradition and Change: Contemporary Art of Asia and the Pacific, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1993, pg. 96

3 Refer to 1, pg. 124

4 Apinan Poshyananda, Modern Art in Thailand, Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1992, pg. 95

5 Refer to 1, pg. 140-141

6 Refer to 2, pg. 97

7 Refer to 1,  pg. 124