POINT OF IL­LU­MI­NA­TION

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Nam­rata Kohli

The splen­did chan­de­liers at the Palace of Ver­sailles in the Île-de-France re­gion of France have been re­stored painstak­ingly by ex­perts from the firm Math­ieu Lus­trerie.

Many of the chan­de­liers through­out the main palace, built by Louis XIII in 1623 as a hunt­ing lodge and en­larged as a royal palace by Louis XIV, and in the Petit Tri­anon, a small chateau within the palace ground where Marie An­toinette lived, got a makeover. The firm’s biggest pro­ject, how­ever was restor­ing the 28 chan­de­liers in the Hall of Mir­rors for which they had to set up a work­shop for over a year. Work­ers laboured along­side the painters restor­ing the ceil­ing of the palace. And it’s not just Ver­sailles, says Regis Math­ieu, director and de­signer of Math­ieu Lus­trerie. They are in­volved with the restora­tion and re­pro­duc­tion of chan­de­liers also at the Opera of Paris, the Wal­lace Col­lec­tion in Lon­don, and the soon-to-be com­pleted Laksmi Vi­las Palace of Bar­oda. It was in the year 1948 when Math­ieu’s fa­ther, Henri, set up the firm to make chan­de­liers with a sense of past and his­tory.

To­day, in the heart of the Luberon in Provence, chan­de­liers are cre­ated, re­stored and repli­cated. About 500 an­tique pieces dat­ing back to the 14th cen­tury are also show­cased there. Tech­niques and ma­te­ri­als used by jewellers are brought into play to cre­ate each piece and cus­tom make each one for ev­ery client. A n d n ow, t h e 4 4 - ye a r- o l d Math­ieu car­ries for­ward the legacy to “use noble ma­te­ri­als such as gold, sil­ver, rock crys­tals and gem­stones”, to cre­ate ev­ery master piece. His team com­prises mainly jewellers – thirty ar­ti­sans who are masters of tra­di­tional know-how and share a pas­sion for their art.

About the tra­di­tion of changing chan­de­liers in the Hall of Mir­rors, Math­ieu says two sets of light fix­tures were kept, “one in glass for ev­ery­day use and the other in rock crys­tal which was kept in jew­ellery boxes and taken out for big oc­ca­sions. Each chandelier had 12 can­dles and the light­ing as­sis­tance to keep them lit in those days was im­pres­sive – as each can­dle lasted only 30 min­utes. So, par­ties (of as­sis­tants) had to move from room to room re­plac­ing the can­dles.” To­day, Math­ieu says he caters to clients from all over the world – In­dian roy­alty, Arab sheikhs from the Mid­dle East, Euro­pean mu­se­ums, uber lux­ury fash­ion bou­tiques and HNIs. A Math­ieu Lus­trerie chandelier has a good mar­ket in Europe, United States, In­dia and the Mid­dle East.

In In­dia, the business comes pri­mar­ily f rom the met­ros of Delhi, Mum­bai, Chen­nai, Kolkata, Ben­galuru and some af­flu­ent cities of Gu­jarat and Pun­jab. The prob­lem with the coun­try, how­ever, is that it has noth­ing like an or­gan­ised an­tique mar­ket, and peo­ple do not have much idea of how such pieces are to be val­ued, laments Math­ieu.

Talk­ing about other as­sign­ments of the firm, he said while work­ing at the Opera of Monaco, they had to redo a chandelier which had 70% dam­age. A five me­tre gi­ant, i t was made of gilt and bronze and was re­stored in about a year. About his first pro­ject in In­dia at the Laxmi Vi­las Palace (LVP) in Vado­dara, Math­ieu says he un­der­stood a lot about the his­tory of the palace by en­gag­ing with the king. “The chan­de­liers of LVP were pur­chased from a com­pany in Lon­don in the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury. They were ini­tially can­dle chan­de­liers but were later mod­ernised to be elec­tri­fied. This is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause at that point of time in Vado­dara or even in In­dia only the Ma­haraja and a very few other elites could have elec­tric­ity.” Dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties ex­hibit dif­fer­ent buy­ing be­hav­iour and it is in­ter­est­ing to hear Math­ieu’s first­hand ac­count of how pur­chases are made in var­i­ous coun­tries. In the Mid­dle East, clients buy a chandelier first and a house later, “al­most build­ing g a home around the chandelier – it is that im­por­tant.” Bri­tish­ers and In­di­ans have a thing for crys­tal chan­de­liers while most Euro­peans are in love with the gilt bronze. . Clas­sic chan­de­liers from lux­ury brands are not cheap, and can set buy­ers back by about ₹ 20 lakh. An­tique pieces are sold for as much as ₹ 2.5 to ₹ 3 crore. Math­ieu also in­sists that peo­ple must buy a chandelier for all the right rea­sons – “Chan­de­liers have long been as­so­ci­ated with grandeur, op­u­lence, style and power – least of all for light. Buy it as you would buy a work of art of a great sculp­tor.” The fir m now cu­rates his­tor­i­cal projects around the world. Math­ieu say they have to take care of chan­de­liers from palaces which have ‘parts’ miss­ing and are of­ten dam­aged. Those do­ing the restora­tion work are also strictly told not to tam­per with the orig­i­nal de­sign. “It is fas­ci­nat­ing to get into the mind of the (orig­i­nal) creator and get al­most private lessons on how the masters might have worked. You tend to un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate how it was all done in those times, with­out elec­tric­ity, to un­der­stand how many can­dles could be used in the de­sign,” he says.

Math­ieu says i t i s very im­por­tant that th­ese beau­ti­ful art pieces “not be like a fickle fash­ion trend – they should be time­less.”

About his firm’s de­sign style, he says it can be clas­si­fied into two types – one is the straight, with con­tem­po­rary, ge­o­met­ri­cal shapes and the sec­ond is the or­nate and or­ganic, which is more ma­ture (with pat­terns of an­i­mals, botan­ics, neck­laces and flow­ers)

His lat­est cre­ation, the sea urchin, is crafted in gilt bronze and studded with 400 faceted semi-pre­cious stones, through which light is dif­fused.

When not light­ing homes, Regis Math­ieu ex­tends his pas­sion for art and his­tory to other things. He is also a recog­nised ex­pert in vin­tage cars like Porsche and The Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle. Be it any­thing from light­ing to au­to­mo­biles, he has a soft spot for ve r y r a r e, ve r y beau­ti­ful ob­jects.

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