cf. S. Day, Art Deco and Modernist Carpets, San Francisco, 2002, p. 128 for another carpet by da Silva Bruhns for the Maharaja of Indore and the foyer of the palace also showing a da Silva Bruhns rug.
This carpet, with its radical geometric motif, was designed for one of the great architectural treasures of the Modern Movement – Manik Bagh (Jewel Garden), the Palace of the Maharaja of Indore. Heir to the distinguished Holkar dynasty, Prince Yeshwant Rao Holkar Bahadur (1908-1961), was crowned as Maharaja of Indore in 1930, at the age of twenty-five, after his father’s abdication. The Prince had enjoyed the privileges of the seemingly boundless wealth into which he was born: the finest education in England, extensive travels, and distinguished mentors such as the French diplomat, author and ‘amateur d’art’ Henri-Pierre Roché, who introduced him into the world of art and culture. The aesthete Prince honed his eye, revealed a sophisticated artistic sensibility and a keen understanding of the avant-garde spirit infusing Europe. He was photographed by Man Ray, and became a significant patron of Brancusi.
The Prince had the idea to build a palace in India for himself and his bride that would distil the most avant-garde architectural and design ideas of the day. To this end, he enlisted the talents of architect Eckhart Muthesius. The project, initiated in 1930, became, just as Yeshwant had desired, an exquisite showcase of the European Modern Movement. For the interior, Muthesius punctuated the furnishings of his own design with selected works by other designers, notably Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Eileen Gray, René Herbst, Marcel Breuer, and the teams of Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, Hans and Wassili Luckhardt, and Louis Sognot and Charlotte Alix.
For the carpets, Muthesius looked to Ivan da Silva Bruhns, who had established his own atelier and showrooms in Paris in 1925. With his bold geometric designs, he rapidly became the most visible and sought-after artist in his field, with work frequently on display at the salons of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs. His high-profile commissions included carpets for the opulent ocean liners, Ile-de-France (1927), Atlantique (1931), and Normandie (1935). In addition to their compelling contemporary designs, da Silva Bruhns’s carpets were appreciated for their exceptionally high quality, with their luxuriantly thick pile made from the finest wool.
The carpets that da Silva Bruhns designed in 1931 for the Palace are stunning examples from his brief but much admired ‘cubist’ phase. The present, unusually large carpet was executed for the Maharaja’s living room, its red, black, brown, and beige palette complementing the furnishings designed for the room by Muthesius in American walnut with upholstery of red rust silk. This room at Manik Bagh served also as a studio and gallery for artworks from the Maharaja’s collection, including sculptures, among them Brancusi’s ‘Bird in Space’ and the cubist-African head of a girl ‘Tête de Reine’ by Hungarian artist Gustave Miklós.
Manik Bagh, from its inception, elicited considerable interest from the international press and was featured in such publications as Fortune, The Illustrated Times of India, and the Berliner Illustrierte. The Palace is remembered today as one of the crowning achievements of Modernism and as a monument to the forward-thinking spirit of that era. The Holkar family sold the Palace in 1976, and the furniture and furnishings were subsequently sold at auction in Monte Carlo, the majority in 1980, and a group of carpets, including the present example, a few years later, in 1987.
CAPTION The Maharaja of Indore, circa 1930, photographed by Man Ray.
CAPTION Living room at the palace of the Maharaja of Indore showing the present carpet in situ.