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SOMERSET MAUGHAM

On his final journey through the Far East in 1959 , Somerset Maugham made stops in destinations that were the setting for his stories and novels written in the 1920s and '30s. He was a guest for dinner at Jim Thompson's celebrated Thai house -- then less than a year old.

 
     

    In the brief thank-you note to his host he wrote:  
  "You have not only beautiful things, but what is rare you have arranged them with faultless taste."  
   
Quote: Somerset Maugham
 
     
 

Despite its personal appeal, "Thompson came to conceive of the collection as something more than a personal affair. He began to look upon it as one way of preserving a few of the country's treasures from possible loss and destruction."

Thompson's extensive art and antique collection is predominantly of Asian origin and can be broadly classified into 4 main categories. These are:

 

 
 

At the time when Thompson set out to be a serious antique collector, the beautiful antiquities of Southeast Asia were little known in the west, except for within a small circle of art experts and museums. In Thailand itself, such possessions were within the realm of only a few wealthy Chinese families and the nobility.

 
 

Buddha image, Ayutthaya School, 18th century

The finest collections of local art were to be seen either in the National Museum or in the Buddhist temples. The rest were primarily kept as objects, part of the family heritage, handed down from generation to generation. These were more often kept for sentimental reasons rather than out of real admiration. Buddha images were regarded as sacred items for worship so they were rarely purchased by Thais for decorative purposes.

 
Porcelain from the Jim Thompson collection on a silk placemat with a design of lotus blossoms and leaves. The bowls on the left have hollow stems which can be used like straws.
 

The lack of consumer demand in those days meant that shops in Nakorn Kasem, the Chinese quarter of the city, were a gold mine of undiscovered and mostly unwanted treasures. In fact when Thompson frequented the shops in Nakorn Kasem, very fine pieces were available for low prices to anyone having keen eye.

 
 
A carved wood panel,
Bangkok School,
19th century, depicting Phra Malai in Indra's heaven where he is telling the faithful what he witnessed in hell.

As more and more former palaces gave way to modern buildings featuring the Western architectural style, their contents found their way to the shops. Likewise farmers in the ancient capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai regularly unearthed much older pieces.

Most of Jim Thompson's acquisitions were the result of his Sunday afternoon strolls along the alleyways of Nakorn Kasem, and his trips to Ayutthaya.

   
 

 
 
Sculptures Paintings Porcelain Other Collectibles