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Artist on ‘the royal trail’


AMONG THE many books chronicling the time His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej spent in Switzerland, a new sketchbook illustrating those years stands out thanks to the endearing talents of celebrated artist Krirkbura Yomnage.

In “Kao Nuer Klao: Jak Lausanne Thueng Lan Phra Merumas – Notre Roi”, Krirkbura brings to bear in 80 watercolours the delicate brushstrokes for which he’s famous. The text, in Thai, is by Supoj Lokunsombat.

The paintings and sketches follow what Thai tourists visiting Lausanne know as “the royal trail”, the places associated with the late King and his siblings. The end of the trail is not in Switzerland, however, but at the royal crematorium in Sanam Luang, a moving choice for the story to come to rest.

This depiction of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej as a student in Switzerland is among Krirkbura Yomnage’s watercolours in “Kao Nuer Klao: Jak Lausanne Thueng Lan Phra Merumas”.

Krirkbura and Supoj spent a week in Switzerland in June, seeking out the places that played a formative role in the young Prince Bhumibol’s life. On their return, they spent two months writing and illustrating the 88-page hardcover book, whose title translates as “Our King: From Lausanne to the Royal Crematorium”.

Krirkbura, 58, says he set out to record the late King’s younger years in Switzerland, both before he ascended the throne and on his return there as King to further his studies.

“He had spent nearly 18 years in Lausanne, one of the most picturesque Swiss settings, and I wanted to share some angles of the location that people might not know about.”

Supoj, who earns his living as a travel writer, knew the country well. He studied hospitality at the Centre Internal de Glion in Switzerland, on a scholarship from Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana, King Bhumibol’s late sister, who also grew up in Lausanne.

Le Grand-Pont is a Lausanne landmark.

“Hof Art Gallery initiated the book project to pay tribute to our beloved monarch,” Supoj explains. “There was a time limit, but luckily I’d already taken the royal trail several times.

“Ajarn Krirkbura’s paintings serve as the doors on every chapter in the late King’s life in Lausanne, proceeding chronologically. My writing only plays a supporting role, summarising the historical record in an easy-to-read way.”

Supoj relied mainly on Princess Galyani’s memoirs, “Chaonai Lek Lek – Yuwakasat” (“Little Royals – Young Kings”) and “Mae Lao Hai Fang” (“As Mum Told”).

For his part, Krirkbura sized up each locale in Lausanne with his artist’s eye, chose an angle, set the composition, and took a photo as a guide for his painting and drawing. The photographic imagery is dazzlingly reproduced in meticulous detail.

The painting that took the most time to execute occupies the opening double fold, depicting Le Grand-Pont, the 173-year-old bridge that connects east and west Lausanne. In the background is a tall hill crowded with fine old buildings and capped by the cathedral.

Lausanne railway station 

The first chapter visits the railway station at which Mom Sangwan Mahidol arrived from Paris in 1926 with her two children. Princess Galyani was two years old and Prince Ananda Mahidol just seven months. The future King Bhumibol was yet to be born.

The children’s father, Prince Mahidol of Songkla, had gone home to Thailand to attend the cremation of King Rama VI. The family, who’d been living in Paris, moved to Lausanne so the children could begin nursery school at Champ Soleil, which was owned by a physician and reputed to excel in the care of small children. It too is pictured in the book.

Bhumibol was born in 1927, in Boston in the United States, where his father was studying medicine. The following year the family moved back to Lausanne so that Prince Mahidol could recuperate from illness. Bhumibol soon joined his siblings at Champ Soleil.

Not long after they’d returned to Thailand, Prince Mahidol died with kidney failure. The widow and children lived in Srapathum Palace in Bangkok, but, in the year after the coup that ended absolute monarchy, moved once more to Switzerland.

The apartment building on Avenue Tissot where the two future Kings lived

Lausanne has of course undergone many changes in the decades since the royal family was there, but Krirkbura and Supoj were delighted to find several of the buildings familiar from the story still intact and looking much the same as always. One was the apartment building at 16 Avenue Tissot where the royal family lived from 1933 to 1935.

In the middle of that period, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) abdicated, and then-nine-year-old Prince Ananda was chosen as his successor. With arrangements made for the children to continue their education in Lausanne, the family moved to the grander Villa Vadhana in nearby Pully. The brothers were enrolled in a private school, Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande.

“The Villa Vadhana has been demolished, but we got to meet Madame Rose-Marie Berger, who’s now 95, who was a neighbour of the Mahidol family,” says Supoj. “Her late husband taught the Princess Mother to speak French.”

Ecole Nouvelle was where the future monarchs began cultivating their multiple talents.

Two of Ecole Nouvelle’s original wings are still standing. This is where the future Kings began developing their multiple talents, including fluency in several languages, woodworking, agriculture and sports. One of the school buildings has a cabinet in which photos and other mementoes of the royal alumni are displayed. A plaque honouring the brothers adorns the facade of the school’s new wing.

The Palais de Rumine was part of the University of Lausanne when the royal siblings were studying there.

Krirkbura painted a panoramic view of the Florentine Renaissance-style Palais de Rumine, once the central edifice of the University of Lausanne, where the royal siblings went on to study.

Close by is the bistro A la Pomme de Pin, where Prince Bhimibol loitered in his student days. The Princess Mother bought her fresh produce at the century-old St Francois Market out front.

Supoj says there was another lucky chance meeting, this time with the Swiss journalist-writer Oliver Grivat, who took them to Villa Flonzaley in Puidoux, another small town outside Lausanne.

On their grand tour of Europe in 1960, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit embarked to destinations from Puidoux railway station. 

This was where King Bumibol loved to rest during his six-month state tour of 13 European countries in 1960. “He could have stayed in a five-star hotel, but he preferred this small town with a population of only 1,500,” Supoj adds.

Another stop was the Puidoux railway station, from which Their Majesties the Queen and late King embarked for their destinations around Europe.

“Daniel Chaubert, the former stationmaster, came to meet us wearing the same hat and nametag he wore the day Their Majesties first arrived at Puidox from their Bonn, in Germany,” says Krirkbura. “He shared his favourite memory with us: ‘The King was so smart and the Queen was very beautiful. Even though it was midnight and they were so tired, they kept smiling’.”

The royal crematorium

The book’s poignant ending is no doubt inevitable. There is a sketch of the telescoped view of the cortege carrying the body of His Majesty home from the hospital last October 13, thousands of stricken mourners lining the route. And then a marvellous painting of the royal crematorium.

But on the last two pages, Krirkbura has depicted daffodils (dararat), King Bhumibol’s favourite flower, which he often plucked for Queen Sirikit when they stayed in Switzerland.

And Supoj has added a verse from the French song “Tristesse”, a favourite of the Queen’s.

Translated, it says, “The shadow flees, goodbye the beautiful dream.”


Twenty of the original 20 watercolours and sketches from the book are on display in CentralWorld’s Eden Zone until October 31.

Two editions of the book are on sale. The first, limited to 999 copies, is boxed with a print signed by Krirkbura and costs Bt1,999. The second, also hardcover, costs Bt999.

Part of the proceeds go to the Ananda Mahidol Foundation and Swiss Student Alumni Association of Thailand.

Order copies at (089) 926 2196.