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02.11.2019 Europe

Indian maharajah's love of European 1930s style on show in Paris

By Rosslyn Hyams - RFI
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / Adagp, Paris, 2019
NOV 2, 2019 EUROPE
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / Adagp, Paris, 2019

If the queues for the Louvre museum in Paris are too long this Leonardo Da Vinci commemorative season, 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,1908-1961, and his wife Maharani Sanyogita 1914-1937.

A home at home
"The Maharaja had a connection with our museum", according to 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 runs until 12 January 2019.

"We're not absolutely sure that he came here, 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.

Beauty in detail and grandeur
The exhibition captures the spirit of the early 20th Century move away from classicism and fuss towards a more simple but no less 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 the colourful, intricate designs for the royal pair's monogrammed cutlery for example.

So modern
The modern patrons refused themselves nothing, and the exhibition shows never-before seen charming home films where they "act" with their 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.

Best light
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 when you look up and down.

In the central hall of the exhibition space, two monumental areas define the visit. At one end hang stylised individual portraits of the maharaja and the maharani looking slick, in European evening dress.

At the other end a sprawling red and black geometric thick carpet designed by Brazilian artist Ivan da Silva-Bruhn from which arise 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 were 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. This was an ideal way of doing that,"  explained Raphaëlle Billé.

"We weren't able to track down all the objects the Maharaja acquired, even if 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 throws a light on the way the Indian upper crust invested time and money in the early 20th century, and also how European and Indian artists and design benefited from their patronage to experiment and evolve.