In 1976, artist Valerie M O’Neill was commissioned to do a painting of the original hotel.
14 September 1929 – 8 August 2010
To commemorate the centenary of the famous Bangkok Oriental Hotel in 1976, artist Valerie M O’Neill was commissioned to do a painting of the original hotel. It graces the cover of the book THE ORIENTAL BANGKOK since its first edition.
Valerie was born in Melbourne, Australia. As a young women she demonstrated prodigious artistic talent and studied under Archie and Amalie Colquhoun, contemporaries of Max Meldrum and later, at the National Gallery School under Sir William Dargie, eight times winner of the Archibald Prize for Portraiture. In the 1950s she continued her studies at the Chelsea Polytechnic School of Art in London. Her portraits were hung at the Royal Academy and at the Australian Artists’ Society at Australia House. Realising that reliance on painting to earn a living wage was not possible in the Australia of the 1950s and 1960s Valerie embarked on an adventurous career as a diplomatic secretary in Australian overseas missions, including Saigon at the height of the French post-colonial war in 1954. Here she met Graham Greene. She was in Cairo at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956 and when President Nasser expelled the Australian Legation staff Valerie found herself clutching her easel and palette on the docks of Alexandria and was fortunate to scramble onto the last departing steamer, being the last woman out. This is recorded in Colleen Mc Cullough’s biography of former Victorian governor, Sir Roden Cutler. She is also referred to en passant in one of Morris West’s books.
She was commissioned to paint the Prime Minister, Harold Holt. In the 1970s Valerie settled into life in Bangkok where she painted portraits of several of the Thai princesses, which now hang in the Royal Palace, and of the Prime Minister, Thanom Kittikachorn. To commemorate the centenary of the famous Bangkok Oriental Hotel Valerie was commissioned to do a painting of the original hotel from a surviving postcard. This painting hangs in the Author’s Lounge at the hotel.
Valerie returned to Melbourne in the late 1970s and took occasional classes for students. Valerie travelled to Hawaii, Noumea and the West Coat of America where she was able to produce some larger canvases in the impressionistic vein for wealthy patrons.
Valerie was a character, full of dash and colour. She was a great raconteur, an urbane and educated woman whose talent was not sufficiently recognised. Sir William Dargie once told her that she was the best portrait painter in Australia, but she was a woman out of time and, on occasion, was disappointed at her lack of acclaim.