Inventory no.: 3316

Early Burmese Family Portrait


Early Aristocratic or Royal Family Portrait & Original Carved Wooden Frame, probably by Saya Chone


circa 1890

dimensions with frame: 98cm x 83cm

dimensions without frame: 75cm x 59.5cm

This painting, of opaque watercolour on cloth with small applied mica plaques to highlight jewellery (photographed under glass so there is some reflection which is otherwise not there), shows a domestic family scene of an aristocratic Burmese family. Two women of the household and what might be a young prince sits with them. The two women have perfumed flowers in their hair and the one on the right is smoking a thick cheroot. Each figure wears jewellery and the make figure wears a necklace, partly obscured, which hangs down to his stomach and is typical of royal jewellery. The three sits on a raised platform covered luxuriantly with patterned cloth and trimmed with lace. One curious element is that the central figure, a female, wears a set of keys on her arm, suspended from cloth over her right shoulder.

It is unsigned but is almost certainly by the Mandalay Saya Chone (1866–1917) a court painter to King Thibaw. The painting is large. Raynard (2009, p. 30) mentions that most of Chine’s royal family portraits are in the range of 60cm by 60cm, which makes this painting even larger than the typical royal family portraits, and that they often incorporate sequins or small stones to serve as highlights, and they are in heavy wooden frames, as is the case with the example here.

As Ranard (2009, p. 26) says, Chone and others like him traversed the colonial age. Portraiture became fashionable during the reigns of Kings Mindon and Thibaw. Royal family members, courtiers and aristocrats began to commission portraits of themselves. Saya Chone studied Western styles of portraiture during his time at Thibaw’s court but within three years of Chone’s engagement at court, the King had been deposed by the British. Chone had to find other employment and so began painting portraits of other wealthy patrons as well as scenes around the palace in Mandalay.

The painting is in its original wooden frame, which has been extravagantly carved with scrolling foliage and figures peering through foliage in the middle of each side.

The painting is in relatively good condition having been protected under glass. Like all in this genre, is on thin cotton. There is a small tear in the canvas (about 1.5cm long) but no loss. The tear has simply been secured with tape on the reverse and is barely visible from the front. There is some fading and some flaking as might be expected. Ranard (p. 36) says that the condition of the paintings in this genre varies; and that almost none are pristine – the best have small holes here and there. On this score, the painting here must be among the best preserved.


Ranard, A., Burmese Painting: A Linear and Lateral History, Silkworm Books, 2009.Provenance:

UK art market; the painting has almost certainly been in the UK since colonial times.

Inventory no.: 3316