POINT OF ILLUMINATION
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.