Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

Modern Maharaja, an incredible dream

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A visionary, a patron of the arts, an aesthete, an Indian royal with a passion for the European avant-garde, the Maharaja of Indore was a living legend of the 20th century from both worlds.

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With a beautiful exhibition, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (MAD) pays tribute to the extraordinary life of the Maharaja of Indore, an Indian prince with one of the most important private collections of Modernist furniture and decorative arts in the world.

This visionary patron of
 the arts became a central figure of the international elite and the European cultural milieu of the 1920s and 1930s.


Yeshwant Rao Holkar II (1908-1961), better known under the name of Maharaja of Indore, is the perfect incarnation a modern man in the 1930s. Attracted to the beautiful, the young man with a thin silhouette and tapered hands combines tradition, intuition and audacity.

 He spent the majority of his youth in the luxurious and stately conditions afforded to the princes of India. During
the 1920s, Holkar II was sent to study
at Oxford in England where a French-speaking private tutor, Dr. Marcel Hardy, introduced him to the cultural milieu
 of European modern artists. Under the guidance of Dr. Hardy, Holkar II met two figures who would become instrumental in his artistic pursuits: the German modern architect Eckart Muthesius (1904-1989) and French artistic advisor and writer Henri-Pierre Roché (1879-1959), both of whom were closely linked to the avant-garde. Together, they visited England, Germany and France, exploring art fairs, museum exhibitions, galleries and artist’s workshops, rousing in Holkar II a passion for Modern Art. 

Monogram for letter head by Jean Puiforcat (end 1920s)

Monogram for letter head by Jean Puiforcat (end 1920s)

Upon his father’s abdication in 1926, Holkar II acceded to the throne as Maharaja of Indore and became entitled to vast wealth and influence. In 1929, shortly after meeting the eminent French couturier and collector Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) in Paris and seeing his studio and collection, the Maharaja decided to erect a grand palace in his native India where he would combine luxury, comfort and modernity, embracing the features of the Modernist movement. 

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In 1930, Eckart Muthesius, the Maharaja’s good friend and mentor, was put in charge of drawing up the blue print. This entailed transforming the foundations of a pre- existing building in order to construct a Modern private residence for the Maharaja and his wife, the Maharani Sanyogita Bai Devi (1914-1937). Designed with their daily needs in mind, the Manik Bagh Palace was decorated with fittings and furniture that glorified the most innovative materials of the period such as metal, synthetic leather and glass, while paying special attention to color within each room. Nearly twenty hand-selected interior designers furnished the rooms, now iconic of the Modern period. 

Some of the most emblematic pieces include Transat armchairs by Irish designer Eileen Gray (1878-1976); a pair of red synthetic leather armchairs with integrated lamps by Eckart Muthesius; beds in metal and glass by French designers Louis Sognot (1892-1970) and Charlotte Alix (1892-1987) designed for the respective bedrooms of the royal couple; and rugs by French painter and weaver Ivan Da Silva Bruhns (1881-1980) that covered the palace floors like vast abstract paintings. 

Unlike his peers, the Maharaja is involved in the design of the works he orders and acquires artworks from Brancusi, is photographed by Man Ray, portraited by Boutet de Monvel (whose paintings are gathered for the first time).

Chaise longue basculante B 306_Thonet edition by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand & Pierre Jeanneret, 1931

Chaise longue basculante B 306_Thonet edition by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand & Pierre Jeanneret, 1931

The death in 1937 of the Sanyogita Maharani, who shared his same avant-garde vision of the arts, marks the end of orders. The prince travels and makes two new marriages as the world sinks into a war leading to end of the British Empire in India and, with it, the collapse of the Indian royalties. The palace and its contents are sold in 1980. 

The exhibition unveils the Maharaja’s innovative world, unerringly representative of Modernism and a central moment in the history of decorative arts. It begins with an introduction of the Maharajah of Indore and the Holkar Dynasty to which he belonged and the construction of the palace. 

Chaise Longue 114, René Herbst, 1931

Chaise Longue 114, René Herbst, 1931

A highlight of commissions given to Eckart Muthesius follows, including a furnished private train, an airplane and a caravan, as well as unrealised projects such as a riverboat and a summer palace. 

Maharaja of Indore, Man Ray, 1927-1930

Maharaja of Indore, Man Ray, 1927-1930

The Central Hall of MAD displays previously unseen films by Eckart Muthesius, offering a glimpse of the Maharajah and his wife at home as well as overseeing traditional ceremonies throughout Indore. 

The Maharaja was an active collector of Modern furnishings. The museum has recreated his office, the royal couple’s respective bedrooms, and the library.

His activities as a collector are also the focus of a section devoted to the salons and exhibitions of the 1920s and 1930s, namely the Salon of the Union des Artistes Modernes and the Salon d’Automne in Paris, where the Maharaja made numerous acquisitions of furniture and objects.

Important commissions for the dining room will also be displayed, including china by French ceramicist Jean Luce (1895-1964) and silverware by Jean Puiforcat (1897- 1945).


The exhibition also evokes the Maharaja’s marked interest in the great jewellery houses of the time such as Van Cleef
& Arpels, Harry Winston and Chaumet, all of whom created majestic pieces for the Maharani. 

Man Ray, 1927-1930

Man Ray, 1927-1930

The BGC Studio scenographers turned the MAD into a palace with a red and black floor and walls giving the illusion of mirrors to amplify the space. Curators Raphaëlle Billé and Louise Curtis have spent many months in the often unpublished archives.

The exhibition runs until From January
12, 2020 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Picture credits and acknowledgements: Adagp, Paris, 2019; Collection Vera Muthesius; Prudence Cuming; Phillips Auctioneers Ltd; Sotheby’s / Art Digital Studio, Ecl’art – Galerie Doria, Paris; Man Ray 2015 Trust; Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI; Guy Carrard; Patrimoine Puiforcat; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Jean Tholance; Collection Heribert Neuwöhner.

Design Auctions at Phillips

Lot 2 - Set of six armchairs and two stolls by Carlo Mollino (ca. 1959). Est. USD 20-30,000

Lot 2 - Set of six armchairs and two stolls by Carlo Mollino (ca. 1959). Est. USD 20-30,000

On June 6th in New York, Phillips is presenting 150 lots from great design masters of the 20th century for its last auction of the season.

With a prestigious list of designers, this auction sale is giving collectors a great opportunity to acquire some stunning pieces.

Here is a very personal selection of 12 creations (including the hero picture):

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Lot 6 - Wall Unit by Gio Ponti (ca. 1950).

Estimate USD 15-20,000. Spell-veneered wood, painted steel.

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Lot 7 - Adjustable floor lamp (model #1045) by Gino Sarfatti (ca. 1948).

Estimate USD 5-7,000.

Painted aluminum, brass.

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Lot 10 - Rocking Chaise (model #PS 16) by Franco Albini (ca. 1959).

Estimate USD 8-12,000. Walnut, fabric, cord.

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Lot 19 - Wall light by Venini (ca. 1950).

Estimate USD 3-5,000.

Glass, painted steel.

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Lot 25 - Pair of wall lights by Franco Buzzi (ca. 1952).

Estimate USD 4-6,000.

Polished and painted brass.

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Lot 36 - Illuminated bar cabinet by Giovanni Gariboldo (ca. 1949).

Estimate USD 7-9,000.

Maple-veneered wood, brass, glass.

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Lot 48 - “Banco Onda” by Jorge Zalszupin (ca. 1960).

Estimate USD 12-18,000. Stained wood-veneered plywood, chromium-plated metal, leather.

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Lot 51 - Console table by Vladimir Kagan (ca. 1952).

Estimate USD 8-12,000.

Walnut-veneered wood, walnut.

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Lot 62 - “Black and White Oval Pot” by John Ward (ca. 1996).

Estimate USD 4-6,000.

Hand-built glazed stoneware.

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Lot 85 - Unique “Butterly Love Sear” by Wendell Castle (ca. 1967).

Estimate USD 60-80,000. Stack-laminated oak

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Lot 125 - Important sideboard from the Maharaja of Indore’s Banquet Hall, Manik Bagh Palace (Indore) by Eckart Muthesius (ca. 1931).

Estimate USD 200-300,000. Stained American walnut-veneered wood, stained American walnut, sycamore, nickel silver drawer handles, white metal inlays.