If the queues for the Louvre museum in Paris are too long this Leonardo Da Vinci commemorative season, visitors can pop next door for a peek into the private life and European tastes of the British-educated Maharaja of Indore, Maharaja Yeshwant Rao II Holkar (1908-’61), and his wife, Maharani Sanyogita (1914-’37).
Home at home
“The Maharaja had a connection with our museum”, said Raphaëlle Billé, assistant curator at the MAD, the Paris Decorative Arts Museum. Billé, along with Louise Curtis curated the exhibition A Modern Maharaja: A patron of the arts in the 1930s which will run until January 12, 2020.
“We’re not absolutely sure that he came here,” said Billé. “But the artists from whom they commissioned works certainly would have.”
They include the German Eckart Muthesius architect of the royal couple’s palace, Manik Bagh, in his kingdom of Indore, today in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Another key personality in the constitution of the Holkar’s collection was Paris-based French art collector and trader, Henri-Pierre Roché, the Maharaja’s art advisor.
The exhibition captures the spirit of early-20th Century – a move away from classicism and fussiness towards a simpler yet eye-catching and detailed style, which also experimented with new, composite materials.
Along with furniture pieces designed by Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann – the 1932 office, Charles Mackintosh’s chairs, or Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret leopard skin-covered reclining chair – are creative photographs of the couple by Man Ray, and colourful, intricate designs for the royal pair’s monogrammed cutlery, for example.
The modern patrons refused themselves nothing, and the exhibition shows never-before-seen charming home-films where they appear to be play-acting with friends. Billé said these were uncovered in Eckhart Muthesius’ personal archives.
The trendy royals were also big fans of the ground-breaking music of the times, jazz.
A far cry from the decor in Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room- Jalsaghar, an ode to tradition, their music room was decorated with a simple glass screen designed by the illustrator Etienne Drian, in about 1930, depicting a band of black musicians.
The exhibition has been carefully scenographed to show off the works to their best advantage. In the photo of Drian’s music screen above, the light thrown on the surface reflects to make a floor design.
There’s as much to see and read on the walls in this exhibition as and when one looks up or down.
Two monumental areas of the exhibition space define it best. At one end hang stylised, individual portraits of the Maharaja and the Maharani, in European evening dress, looking slick.
At the other end is a sprawling, thick, red-and-black geometric carpet designed by Brazilian artist Ivan da Silva-Bruhn from which rises a towering wall of mirrored panes offering a dislocated view of the hall behind.
Some of the pieces were commissioned by the Maharaja and his wife but others reproduced by the artist in different or similar materials.
“We explored the subject more or less transversally, with a wide variety of exhibits, with the aim of showcasing design between the two World Wars, as our own Art-Deco collection is the only one of its kind,” explained Raphaëlle Billé. “This was an ideal way of doing that. We weren’t able to track down all the objects the Maharaja acquired, even though we had a lot of help from his daughter and son, and collectors in India. But we have identical pieces in the museum’s collection. Some of them were barely reproduced, they are very rare. For example, the armchair by René Herbst.”
Architecturally less involved than decoratively, the Modern Maharaja exhibition shines a light on the way the Indian upper-class invested time and money in the early-20th century, and also how European and Indian artists and designers benefited from their patronage.
This article first appeared on RFI.