There’s a lot more to Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts than decorative art but the decorative items that are featured are definitely worth the price of admission. Opening tomorrow at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, Maharaja features 200 objects spanning nearly three centuries and it’s not just about golden thrones and silver carriages, though there are stellar examples of both.
Some of the most surprising items come at the end of the show in a section dubbed “The Modern Maharaja,” which includes art deco furnishings by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Eckart Muthesius, photographs by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton and jewels by Cartier.
The Ruhlmann desk is particularly handsome: made around 1930 of Macassar ebony, glass and chromed steel, the enormous piece screams prestige. The deco furnishings were originally installed in the Manik Bagh palace alongside works by Le Corbusier, Eileen Gray and Charlotte Perriand, among others.
Given how few paintings are included in the exhibition I’m surprised this show isn’t at the ROM instead of the AGO but it would be easy to argue that every item on display is a work of art. As with everything in life, museum stewardship is about relationships and the AGO is apparently well-connected with London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, from whence this exhibition comes.
I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by Mughal (or Mogul) decoration; I love the exuberant and intricate motifs and patterns, the mystery and exoticism of it all.
Indian silversmithing is second to none and the Maharaja show contains some astonishing examples. The silver carriage below was crafted in 1915 and features some especially beautiful enamel work, in addition to the spectacular casting and reliefs.
The silver throne below is a miniature (actually about four feet tall) version of the golden throne of Mysore made in 1876. Those Maharajas really knew how to flaunt it.
The exhibition also includes paintings, weapons, costumes and fabulous jewels but the popular favorite seems to be the 1934 Phantom II Star of India Rolls Royce, below.
The giftshop, too, is brimming with books, boxes and assorted Indo-tchotchke, some of which I’d be happy to find under the Christmas tree, like the fun, colourful Ganesh pillows below ($95 each).
Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts runs from November 20 until April 3; adult admission is $22 but anyone 25 and under is admitted free thanks to a special sponsorship arrangement.