I've never been to India but am as mystified by it as anyone. I went expecting a lux experience, and got one, but i also learned quite a lot about the symbolic and visceral power of such precious objects.
I felt like a child in the royal courts of India.
Concurrent with the Maharaja Exhibition is a contemporary show promoting the graphic artist Sanjay Patel, whose books appeal to children and vividly tell the ancient stories of dieties, avatars, the Ramayana, in a way that recalls Nina Paley's 2008 animated film, Sita Sings the Blues. Patel was there to sign his books and judging from the endless snaking line of people, adults & children, his popular work is a 21st century third eye on a distant land.
In the final gallery I came across a group of works concerning Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore, a ruler and style icon of the 1920s and 30s. Man Ray's series of photographs of Rao and his glamorous wife, Maharani Sanyogita Devi, posing in Paris strike a jazzy note. The tonic chord for me, though, the piece that brought the Peacock Courts' opulent power home in a modern way is a 1929 painting of Rao by Bernard Boutet de Monvel. I can't take my eyes off it. The chic Maharaja's gesture, his style, his dress, his obviously royal bearing, his noble profile are expressed with restraint yet the painter is obviously in awe of the late milieu of Maharaja of India. So am i.
It all ended for the Royal Courts by 1947: The Partition. Still, the jewels remain, hefty carats of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, pearls and rubies set in platinum and gold, fortunes dispersed across museums and small palaces around India and the World. I'd trade all that, though, for this one cloth canvas dabbed in oils and soaked in luxury.