Modern Masters: Chefs-d’œuvre d’une Collection Privée

Modern Masters: Chefs-d’œuvre d’une Collection Privée



Auction Closed

December 12, 12:31 AM GMT


1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD

Lot Details



1879 - 1933


Circa 1929

Designed for the Maharaja of Indore

Model No. 472NR

Lacquered wood, chromium-plated metal, velvet upholstery

Branded Ruhlmann

29¾ x 24⅛ x 56¼ in.; 75.5 x 61.4 x 143 cm

Collection of Robert and Cheska Vallois, Paris, early 1970s

Collection of Geneviève and Pierre Hebey, Paris

Millon & Robert, Paris, Les Ruhlmann de Geneviève et Pierre Hebey, October 28, 1999, lot 16

Collection of Alain Lesieutre, Paris

Collection of Laurent Negro, Gourdon, France

Christie's Paris, Chefs-d'oeuvre du XXème siecle: Les Collections du Château de Gourdon, March 29, 2011, lot 18

René Chavance, "Le XIXème Salon des Artistes Décorateurs," in Art et Décoration, July 1929, p. 20 (for a photograph of a variant of the model)

Ruhlmann: un génie de l'Art déco, exh. cat., Musée des Années 30, Paris, 2002, p. 41 (for a period photograph of the present lot exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs)

Emmanuel Bréon, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann: Furniture, Paris, 2004, pp. 103-104 (for a production sketch of the model), 112 (for a period photograph of the present lot exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs), 113 (for a production sketch of the model)

Chefs d'Oeuvre, exh. cat., Galerie Vallois, Paris, 2008, pp. 53-56 (for the present lot illustrated)

Florence Camard, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, Paris, 2009, p. 379 (for the present lot illustrated)

Moderne Maharajah: Un Mécène des Années 1930, exh. cat., Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 2019, p. 156 (for the present lot illustrated)

The Maharaja of Indore: The Ultimate Quest for Modernity

The following two masterpieces of modernist design, the Chaise Long “aux Skis” by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann (lot 26) and the Floor Lamp by Eckart Muthesius (lot 27) share a common origin that points to the figure of Yeshwant Rao Holkar II, known as the Maharaja of Indore.

Holkar’s search for modernity finds its roots in his family’s history and entourage. As directed by strict tradition, and in order to best prepare for his role as the ruler of one of the wealthiest Indian states, he received an international education, attending school and university in England—specifically, the Cheam School and Christ Church College at Oxford from 1926-1929. During that time, he was able to visit numerous European capitals, often joined by his preceptor, Dr. Marcel Hardy, his wife Sanyogita Devi, and his sister, Manorama Raje. Such travels included visits to Berlin, where he met with young German architect and fellow Oxford student Eckart Muthesius, with whom he developed a close friendship.

If the project for a new palace in Indore had been in the works years before his enthronement, Holkar’s close relationship with Muthesius, as well as his encounter with Jacques Doucet in Paris in 1929, profoundly changed the Maharaja’s plans for his future Indian home. Indeed, his visit to Doucet’s Neuilly studio—the home of contemporary modernist works by Gustave Miklos, Joseph Csaky (lot 17) and Marcel Coard (lot 18)—marked a significant event, the importance of which was immortalized in a letter that the young heir sent to Doucet on October 22, 1929:

“Dear Mr. Doucet,

I cannot leave Europe and go back to my country without expressing my gratitude and telling you how delightful it was to share these moments in your company, surrounded by all of your artistic treasures.

I hope you will not accuse me of exaggerating when I say, very simply, that the two hours that we spent at your home were among the best that I spent in Paris and in France. Those are rare impressions and moments that I will take with me and will keep jealously. Your comments and advice were equally as precious.

Maharajah Holkar

October 22, 1929”

This visit seems to have convinced the future Maharaja that modern art and design was a direction worth pursuing. His encounter with Doucet also coincided with his increasingly close proximity with Muthesius and Henri-Pierre Roché, who he met in 1926 and would become an important intermediary between the Indian patron and contemporary French artists, as evidenced by the fee he received upon each purchase and commission. The project for the princely palace of Indore became more definite that year. Muthesius, upon Holkar’s request, agreed to oversee the architecture of the couple’s private residence as well as its interior decor, to be comprised of avant-garde European furniture, lighting, and works of art.

In his quest for outstanding design, the future Maharaja embarked on a journey throughout Europe at artists’ studios and decorative arts salons, often accompanied by Muthesius, Roché and Hardy, all providing him with inestimable advice and recommendations. With the death of Doucet on October 30, 1929 and the financial crisis that followed, many artists and designers were deprived of important clients and commissions. The rumor rapidly spread among artistic circles that a wealthy Indian prince was visiting Paris in search for innovative works of decorative arts and design. One of the very first signs of such excitement can be traced to the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, held at the Grand Palais that same year where Ruhlmann presented his studio-chambre du prince héritier d’un vice-roi des Indes (“Studio-Bedroom for the heir of an Indian vice-king”). Ruhlmann’s was a rather explicit reference to the future Maharajah of Indore. From Ruhlmann’s ravishing presentation, the Maharaja only bought a bookcase as well as a monumental black-lacquered desk and chair. While touring Europe, Holkar was exposed to and inspired by new generations of creators that included Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand, from whom he bought a reclining lounge chair, first exhibited at the Salon d’Automne of 1929.

The future Maharaja’s purchases were far from compulsive and resulted from a meticulous process orchestrated by Roché. As evidenced in the Muthesius archives, Roché would send photographs of pieces to Holkar and his wife for them to make a calculated selection; they would in turn forward their chosen pieces to Muthesius who would orchestrate the palace’s interior layout. Some of those photographs show clear indications of the room for which the works were intended, while others showed their asking purchase price. The archives further show the couple’s strong creative involvement in this process, often requesting that designers change or add elements to specific works they selected. Case in point, a flatware service by Jean Puiforcat required, upon their request, the addition of ebonized elements to the tip of each piece. Other components of the house (furniture, shelving units, floor lamps, sconces and chandeliers) were designed by Muthesius himself under Holkar’s close supervision. The designs created by the German architect were in clear symbiosis with the modern architecture of the palace, strongly relying on such innovative materials as glass and metal. The lighting designs, and the present floor lamp (lot 27) especially, evoke the clean and pristine aesthetic of the Machine Age while including truly futuristic and innovative elements like the brightly lacquered red reflector.

Once it was fully furnished around 1933, the palace unmistakably showed the taste and personality of its owner. With the influence of Doucet’s style, Roché’s artistic inclinations and Muthesius’ architectural vision, period photographs reveal a highly homogenous interior comprising pieces that embodied the pinnacle of modernist art and design from the early 1930s. The visual and aesthetic coherence of the palace show that Modernism, in the eyes of the future Maharaja, was not understood as a stationary concept but encompassed a great variety of forms, designs and functions. With this project, Holkar contributed to promote a spirit of artistic creation in Western Europe during the interwar period, allowing numerous designers, artists and craftsmen to bring many of their most ambitious projects to fruition.

The superb Chaise Longue “aux Skis” was originally designed by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann in 1929 as part of a suite intended for the heir to the Indor Kingdom of India, Yashwant Rao Holkar II. Ruhlmann presented the suite that same year at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris as a studio-chambre pour un prince hériter (“studio for a prince”), maintaining the confidentiality of the heir’s identity while he selected works for his future palace. The suite included never-before-seen pieces of furniture, many of them executed with luxurious black lacquer, including the present Chaise Longue “aux Skis”. Though the chaise was not used for the palace, the model has become emblematic of the avant-garde designs conceived for this historic commission. Based on period references, only two models appear to have been executed. The only other known example of the chaise presents with minor variations, namely the absence of lacquer on the armrest and the absence of electric switches controlling the heating system located on the footrest. The whereabouts of this alternate model are unknown, making the present Chaise Longue the only known extant example of the model to date.

The designs that Ruhlmann presented at the Salon were praised by the critics of the time, notably René Chavance from Art et Décoration, who described Ruhlmann’s newest creations as refreshing, modern and elegant. Jacques Baschet from L’Illustration emphasized the notions of idleness and comfort in his review of the Salon.

Ruhlmann’s ensemble for the 1929 Salon illustrates a key moment in his career in which he sought to reconcile the radically simplified forms of the modern age brought forward by newcomers like Le Corbusier with the more traditional Art Deco style that brought him to fame in the early to mid-1920s. This transition is demonstrated here through the use of new materials like chromium-plated steel and dynamic, streamlined forms. The Chaise Longue itself is a work of total luxury, suitable for royalty, outfitted with an adjustable black-lacquered wood frame, a heated footrest and a reading light affixed to the backrest. Its most noteworthy feature, however, is the particularly creative use of skis as a base—a device that Ruhlmann used on other pieces from the 1929 studio-chambre suite, including a bar cabinet and a leather-upholstered armchair. The result is a truly modernist and innovative masterpiece conceived for an international patron of avant-garde architecture and design.

A testament to its iconic status, the Chaise Longue was classified as a Trésor National, or “National Treasure,” by the French government for many years and could not be transported overseas. In December 2013, a passport was finally issued for the piece by the French authorities, allowing it to be shipped outside of France. More recently, the Chaise Longue was requested by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris for their ongoing exhibition focusing on the Maharaja Indore, Moderne Maharajah, Un Mécène des Années 30.