Eckart Muthesius, 1904 – 1989
Furniture from the Manik Bagh, Indore, c. 1930
Eric Touchaleaume private collection.
In 1930, a gifted young German architect by the name of Eckart Muthesius was commissioned to design a new palace for an Indian maharaja aged just 25 and hooked on modernity: Yeshwant Rao Holkar. The two had become close friends at school in Europe.
The avant-garde palace, known as the Manik Bagh (‘Garden of rubies’), was located at Indore in what was then the state of Mahratta, the heartland of India that is now part of Madya Pradesh.
The palace was first and foremost a private residence, designed for the family life of Yeshwant, his lovely young wife Sany Ogita Devi, and their future children. There were only a limited number of rooms as well as several state rooms, including a ballroom where the young couple and their friends might dance the fox-trot and listen to jazz.
The official ceremonial palace of the Holkar family was in fact the Lal Bagh, built by the father of Yeshwant in classical English style.
During the construction of the palace and for several years after, the princely couple – advised by their friend Muthesius and by Henry Pierre Roché – combed Parisian salons and artists’ studios to put together an exceptional collection of Modernist masterworks.
Among the most remarkable pieces were the three versions – in black marble, white marble, polished bronze – of Brancusi’s‘Bird in space’, which stood amid other superb works representative of Art Déco, the U.A.M. and the Bauhaus: desk by Ruhlmann; reclining chair by Le Corbusier, Jeanneret, Perriand; ‘Transat’ armchair by Eileen Gray; numerous pieces by Sognot; seats and lamps by Breuer and Luckhardt.