The allure of the exceptional provenance. In the immensely successful design sale at Sotheby's today, two lots stood out: a floor lamp by German architect Eckart Muthesius and a chase in lacquer by French master decorator Emile-Jacques Rhulmann. The two lots, fetched combined $2mm, came from the same home, the modernist palace of the Maharaja of Indore, a masterpiece long known as one of the most intriguing and mysterious design projects of the 20th century. It is this palace, which contained one of the most admired design collections of all time.
Muthesius, whose father, Herman Muthesius was one of the most dynamic founders of the Modern Movement in Germany, first met the Prince Yeshwant Rao Holkar Bahadur in Oxford, shortly before he became the Maharaja of Indore. This meeting came to change the young architect's career when he was asked to design the Maharaja's new palace, called Manik Bagh in India. Muthesius sought to create a modernist palace of exquisite interiors, commissioning some of Europe's best talents with furniture and furnishings. The contents were auctioned off by Sotheby Parke Barnet in Monte Carlo in 1980, a sale which has since considered a milestone in the history of design collecting.
Now, one of the pieces from that historic sale was back in the market. The first model of the Chaise Longue “aux Skis” by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann was originally designed in 1929 as a part of a suite he exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris, maintaining the confidentiality of the Maharaja's name. The chaise was not included in the palace at the end, but the model has become emblematic of that commission. It also came to mark a departure in Ruflmann's work from his Art Deco neoclassicism to modernism representing his interest in sports and transportation. If he did not die shortly after, it would have been widely developed. The floor lamp, which Muthesius himself designed looks even more modernist, and it can be seen in the period photo (see below) of the master bedroom; it was one of six models he created for this commission. The strong result indicates the power of a great provenance.