In France, Rao Holkar II felt free, heed­less of pro­to­col in an en­vi­ron­ment with no taboos.

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - RAO HOLKAR II -

The Co­moe­dia dated 12 Septem­ber 1932 re­ports that “the master glass–maker An­dré Hunebelle has just fin­ished a large dec­o­ra­tive panel on a mir­ror for the ma­haraja’s palace in Indore. A unique piece that will be ex­hib­ited at 2, av­enue Vic­tor Em­manuel be­fore be­ing sent to in In­dia.” The fu­tur­is­tic Manik Bagh palace, 500 kilo­me­tres from Bom­bay, in the state now known as Mad­hya Pradesh was near­ing com­ple­tion. Eckart Muthe­sius worked day and night, de­sign­ing the lamps and light­ing him­self and choos­ing ev­ery item of fur­ni­ture bear­ing the sig­na­ture of now fa­mous de­sign­ers, but whose pres­ence at the home of a prince was pure sac­ri­lege, as all the ( in­dus­trial ) items were mass–pro­duced. Charlotte Per­riand con­trib­uted her fa­mous chaise longue, which she cus­tomised in leop­ard skin. Eileen Gray’s “Transat” chair ar­rived in 1927; there was also Djo–Bour­geois round glass ta­ble with a me­tal pedestal. And what of Le Cor­bus­ier? They bought a few things from him. The palace is what is truly a Ge­samtkunst­werk, a to­tal work of art mak­ing use of many art forms. No other build­ing com­pares with it, ei­ther in In­dia or Europe. The sur­prise does not stem from ei­ther pomp or sump­tu­ous­ness, but from its bare­ness. And the most sur­pris­ing fea­ture is its unique air–con­di­tion­ing sys­tem. Muthe­sius was not happy merely to trans­port a piece of Le Cor­bus­ier–style Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture to In­dia. He dreamt up “a palace you could live in”, as he says in a cat­a­logue, “the first to com­bine pri­vate Euro­pean cul­ture with the In­dian way of life” and with “ev­ery­thing adapted to the rather test­ing cli­mate”. So the ar­chi­tect–en­gi­neer in­vented a sound­less air–con­di­tion­ing and pu­ri­fy­ing sys­tem. For greater cool­ness, the garden fea­tures an or­na­men­tal lake, which re­flects the shade of the trop­i­cal trees, lit by lamps hid­den in their branches.

Read­ing his de­scrip­tion of the palace, its un­der­ground cor­ri­dor and kitchen, so that the Ma­haraja and his guests would not be both­ered by the strong smell of curry, and the bak­ery — also in the base­ment, his tele­phone line for in­ter­nal calls, it brings to mind the whim­si­cal in­ven­tions of Jac­ques Tati, decades later, in his film Play­time. Muthe­sius has thought of ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing the colours of the fur­ni­ture and the walls, de­signed to en­hance the tones of the of­ten very bright clothes of the Hindu guests. The palace was like the prince’s outer shell, and re­sem­bled him in part. Rao Holkar loved pure, sim­ple lines and the palace was to­tally un­clut­tered. Ob­vi­ously the ab­sence of op­u­lence was met with in­credulity by the In­dian guests, who tended to favour a much busier baroque style. Rao Holkar re­fused to al­low the hang­ing of tra­di­tional por­traits of no­bles in cos­tume cov­ered in gold thread and frills. In­stead, in the re­cep­tion room, he hung two paint­ings by Art Deco artist Bernard Boutet de Mon­vel. The first shows him, in a play­ful mood, wear­ing a black cape lined with white silk, and a snow–white din­ner suit. Ev­ery­thing is white, save the bow tie. The in­spi­ra­tion for the sec­ond is sur­re­al­ist: the prince, sit­ting cross–legged in a white arm­chair, seems to fade into the var­i­ous lay­ers of white, which high­light his long, slim hands. Al­though the two paint­ings re­veal much about the prince’s imag­i­na­tion and el­e­gance, like the palace, they led to a gen­eral out­cry. Where were the princely cos­tumes? —›

Rao Holkar II’s palace, de­signed by Eckart Muthe­sius, is a mas­ter­piece of min­i­mal­ism, and en­cap­su­lates Euro­pean moder­nity — the an­tithe­sis of the baroque style of In­dian palaces.

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