Eckart Muthesius - Modern Masters London Tuesday, April 26, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore, Manik Bagh Palace, Indore, India
    Acquired from the above, private collection, 1980s
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Literature

    'Indisches Märchenschloß 1933, Eine Berliner Architekt baut den Palast des Maharadschas von Indore', Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, no. 46, November 1933, n.p. for the sideboard in situ
    Agnolodomenico Pica, 'Eckart Muthesius in India, The avant-garde meets history', Domus, no. 593, April 1979, p. 7 for the sideboard in situ
    Patricia Bayer, Art Deco Interiors, London, 1990, pp. 138-39 for the sideboard in situ
    Costantin Brancusi 1876-1957, exh. cat., Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1995, p. 272 for the sideboard in situ
    Reto Niggl, Eckart Muthesius 1930: The Maharaja's Palace in Indore, Architecture and Interior, Stuttgart, 1996, p. 82 for the sideboard in situ
    Reto Niggl, Eckart Muthesius: India, 1930-1939, Berlin, 1999, p. 58 for the sideboard in situ
    Le Palais Du Maharadjah D'Indore, photographs, exh. cat., Galerie Doria, Paris, 2006, pp. 63, 65, 107 for the sideboard in situ
    Amin Jaffer, Made for Maharajas, A Design Diary of Princely India, London, 2006, p. 267 for the sideboard in situ

  • Catalogue Essay

    Phillips wishes to thank Vera Muthesius for her assistance with the cataloguing of the present lot.

    Yeshwant Rao Holkar II and the Palace of Ideas
    Deepika Ahlawat

    The Holkars of Indore were the regional representatives of the vast Maratha Empire which had caused dramatic change in Indian politics, society and culture in the 18th century. Founded by the warrior king Shivaji as a new political order in the late 17th century, the Marathas carved a confederacy, which at its peak controlled a bigger swathe of the subcontinent than any preceding empire.

    A concatenation of political circumstance and conflict broke the back of the Maratha confederacy within a century of its formation, but powerful regional generals, amongst them the Gaekwads of Baroda, the Scindias of Gwalior and the Holkars of Indore, continued as influential regional powers in central and western India.

    By the early 19th century, most Maratha houses had signed treaties of paramountcy with the East India Company, which allowed them to have a degree of independence as ‘native chiefs’ within their states.

    The Holkars found it difficult to live under this indirect rule of the British, and many rulers from the dynasty had fractious relationships with the Paramount Power. For example, Yeshwant Rao Holkar II (1908-1961) only became the Maharaja of Indore after his father, Tukojirao Holkar II, was deposed and exiled to France in 1926, the second successive ruler to be thus relieved of power. His son assumed full ruling powers at the age of 22 upon his return from England in 1930.

    After spending his early childhood in India, Yeshwant Rao had been sent to England to be educated: first at Charterhouse and then at Oxford. It is here, and on his travels to Europe and America, that he acquired his celebrated avant-garde taste. Under the influence of friends like Eckart Muthesius, whom he had met at Oxford, he became an early patron of Modernism, including a collector of the works of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

    His wife, Sanyogita, to whom he had been married in 1924 at the age of 16, had also been educated in England by the Indore State so that she could prove a suitable companion for him. However, rather than preparing them for a life in India, this arrangement gave the royal couple a taste for the free, cosmopolitan life afforded by the European capitals, and a reluctance to return to the duty-filled and tradition-bound life in Indore. The young couple went on frequent tours abroad, becoming enthusiastic patrons of western artists, designers, jewellers and couturiers until the death of Maharani Sanyogita in 1937.

    However reluctant Yeshwant Rao was to stay in India, he did make a sustained effort to modernise his state, starting a series of public works including roads, hospitals, schools, a university, an airport and introducing modern laws in the labour sector.

    Manik Bagh, designed and built by Muthesius, was started in 1930 as a reminder of the avant-garde world of ideas and friends the Maharaja had left behind in the west. It was an homage to a break from tradition, from a conformity of taste and politics and from the aged orient of his perception. It was thus both a celebration and a rebellion.

    Manik Bagh was new, modern and innovative. It had electric fittings, air conditioning, hydraulic doors in metal frames, serene bathrooms equipped with modern plumbing and lined with opaline tiles and a kitchen with modern refrigeration.

    Muthesius brought in collaborators from his avant-garde world including icons of Modernism such as Le Corbusier, Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand as well as Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Ivan da Silva Bruhns to design and make the interior fittings for the new project. Everything, including rugs, furniture, light fittings, decorations and even the dinner plate and cutlery was carefully considered, an ideological and aesthetic whole, which could perhaps best be appreciated if viewed against the extravagant ostentation of the Bavarian style Laal Bagh Palace that had been built by Yeshwant Rao’s predecessors.

    Muthesius, meanwhile, using his royal friend’s contacts began to acquire projects in other princely houses. However, this insertion of avant-garde Modernism into India was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was forced to leave India.

    Today this iconic building serves as the office of the Customs and Excise Department, its elegant rooms fractured by office partitions, its Deco light fittings empty and staring, and its bathrooms used as storage for old files. On the wall of the director’s office is a map of the erstwhile Indore State, attached in relief to the cream walls, defiantly inerasable.

    Only the library annexe, still in the family, continues to harbour the restful environment that the Maharaja and Muthesius had tried to create through the medium of modernity. The knotted fringe curtains, the faded, noise-damping carpets, the perfectly designed card tables, and Yeshwant Rao’s collection of books on philosophy, politics and spiritualism, are even today overseen by the limpid gaze of his beautiful wife as she gazes down from her oil and canvas likeness.

    It is in this room that one realises why this environment, so familiar to us from the modern home of today, has a pioneering status in architectural history. It was, after all, the home of tomorrow, made yesterday.

    Deepika Ahlawat,
    March 2016

    Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II met Eckart Muthesius while studying at Oxford in the late 1920s, and the two bonded over their passion for modern design and technology. When Yeshwant Rao reluctantly returned to India in 1930 to assume rule of Indore, he invited Muthesius to collaborate with him on a new palace. Muthesius spent most of the next three years designing the architecture and much of the interior of Manik Bagh, or Garden of Rubies, widely recognized as an opus of International Modernism.

    Inspired by his father Hermann and his godfather Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Muthesius’ design philosophy united elegance, simplicity, and comfort with the emerging Modern style (Reto Niggl, Eckart Muthesius 1930: The Maharaja's Palace in Indore, Architecture and Interior, Stuttgart, 1996, p. 11). The majority of Muthesius’ furnishings for Manik Bagh were produced in Germany. Before filling three ships to Indore, he exhibited designs and architectural plans for the palace in a Berlin exhibition that was lauded by the press (ibid, p. 22). For the palace interior, the architect collected examples by European masters such as Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann in addition to his own work. Manik Bagh was completed after several years, emerging as a locus of design at the transitional moment when the sumptuous surface decoration that typified the 1920s was propelling toward simple, functional forms made of industrial materials. Particularly avant-garde for India, the grand yet intimate palace, was a landmark of burgeoning modernism. It was pictured in magazines throughout the world in the 1930s (ibid, p. 8)

    Shortly after the completion of Manik Bagh, Muthesius documented his results in photographs, where the present lot is recorded in situ. This is one of two sideboards designed for the magnificent banquet hall located on the ground floor. Like the rest of the palace, the space was dominated by a rectilinearity softened with colour, lighting, and textiles. An expansive black-stained wooden table topped with a thick layer of glass stretched the length of the room on a travertine floor. The glass tabletop, set with tableware by Jean Puiforcat, featured recesses for flower arrangements that were illuminated from below. Thirty chairs upholstered in golden yellow, surrounded the dining table and echoed the colour of the floor-length silk curtains. The sideboards were flanked with polished nickel and brass wall lamps, later joined by a pair of Constantin Brancusi sculptures. The Maharaja is known for his long patronage of his friend Brancusi, who was also acquainted with Muthesius. During a visit to Brancusi’s studio in 1933, the Maharaja reserved two marble Bird in Space sculptures for the palace banquet hall to accentuate the Muthesius sideboard (pictured).

    Since the establishment of the Raj in the mid-nineteenth century, Indian palaces had incorporated Western design into vernacular traditions. The combination of East and West is exemplified in the present lot through the integration of opulent details that embrace the legacy of royal India in a modern, industrial aesthetic. This simple form with luxurious accents embodies Muthesius’ approach to the entire palace. Executed by Tischlerei Johann Eckel, the black-stained American walnut and sycamore sideboard is sleek and solid. The smooth surface and block-like form reflect Modern design and the inlayed aluminium suns are the only ornamentation. While aluminium was a material that symbolised technological progress, the delicate inlay technique draws from centuries-old fine furniture traditions. The sun motifs with the thin, alternating long and short rays recall the Sun as Rajputs from which the Holkar’s of Indore claim descent and why the symbol was depicted within the monogram that Muthesius redesigned for Yeshwantrao Rao Holkar, seamlessly fitting with his modern sensibilities. Muthesius’ photographs of the dining room captured how the aluminium suns glowed against the background in the indirect light of the wall lamps. The bow of the key to the sideboard bears the Maharaja’s stylised initials. These elements of customisation and refinement sprinkled throughout Manik Bagh would remind visitors that this very modern home was also a prince’s palace.

Property from a Private Collection


Important sideboard, designed for the Maharaja of Indore's Banquet Hall, Manik Bagh (Garden of Rubies) Palace, Indore

circa 1931
Stained American walnut, sycamore, aluminium.
94.8 x 299.8 x 51 cm (37 3/8 x 118 x 20 1/8 in.)
Executed by Tischlerei Johann Eckel, Berlin-Lankwitz, Germany. Bow of key modelled with the Maharaja's monogram YH.

£300,000 - 500,000 

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Modern Masters

London Auction 27 April 2016