Must-See Marsi

She signed her art with a simple two-syllable name: Marsi. To Italians, the name could bring to mind an ancient people of Germanic origin. To Thais, she’s a national treasure, both the person and her art. Although most of her works were painted in Europe, her legacy is very much embraced by Thailand as the country’s own, more so considering her royal lineage.

Princess Marsi Paribatra is the only child of HRH Prince and Princess Chumbhot of Nagor Svarga, who had built the Thai-style Suan Pakkad Palace on Sri Ayudhya Road. The Princess received her tertiary education in Switzerland, France, and Spain, and earned her Doctoral Degree in Art History from the University of Madrid, where she lectured thereafter, before teaching at Chula.

The Princess’s paintings have been likened to Dali. But that is only a convenient comparison. While surreal in style, her compositions are far much more complex, often involving characters so numerous, details so minute that they are almost biblical in scale. There is nothing desolate about her tableaux, nothing like Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, even when some of her pieces appear to be personifications of death. Rather, her scenes–almost dioramas–are evocative of those by Renaissance painters. The characters she painted, sometimes naked, sometimes part-animal, could have been a modern take on the 15th century’s depiction of saints.

The exhibition, set unsuitably in Siam Paragon (surely such fine works deserve a proper gallery rather than an open space of a shopping complex), comprises 35 paintings that can be delightful as well as disturbing. This is a rare chance to see Princess Marsi’s brilliant works. She does not paint any more, having gone into retirement because of a debilitating stroke. Her last exhibition in Thailand was 49 years ago.

Marsi is on at The Hall of Mirrors, not The Versailles, but Siam Paragon till 29 March.

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