The Maharani of Indore, by Boutet de Monvel, 1934.
After the arrival of the British, the maharajas lost most of their real political power. But they were retained by the British for important ceremonial reasons, primarily to support the empire’s claim on India. Some of the kings and their wives became darlings of the European social set, and their palaces were often furnished in the most contemporary European design. They would have been educated in Europe and would have traveled frequently to European capitals.
The Maharaja Yeshwani Rao Holkar II and his wife Maharani Sanyogita Devi of Indore were one such couple. They became friends with the artist Man Ray, who often photographed them.
Maharani Sanyogita Devi and her husband the Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar of Indore, were considered one of the chicest couples of the Jazz Age. They married in 1924 and gave birth to their first child, Princess Usha Devi, on October 20th, 1933 in Paris. Educated in England, the Maharaja and Maharani were fixtures amongst the international jet set of the 1920s and ‘30s; equally at ease in the gilded drawing rooms of New York, London and Paris. In Hollywood they befriended the stars and movie moguls of the day such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who invited them to movie sets and film premiers. Celebrated as one of the era’s most stylish women, the Maharani would frequently appear at functions dressed by Vionnet, Schiaparelli and Lanvin. During couture presentations, she stood out amongst European and American clients in her custom French chiffon saris, elegantly perched on a gilt chair with a fur coat draped over her shoulders. The royal couple also had a deep interest in modern art and design, which won them the friendship of some of the greatest artists and designers of the era, including furniture designer Emil Ruhlmann, artist Constantin Brancusi (from whom they commissioned several sculptures) and Man Ray, who shared their passion for jazz and captured the couple in a series of playful portraits while on vacation in Cannes.
Amongst the most memorable portraits of the Maharaini were those by the celebrated society painter of the day, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, who sketched fashions for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar early in his career. Over the course of four years, he would create three striking portraits capturing the chic Maharani in French chiffon saris and elegant couture gowns. Two of the portraits were displayed to the public for the first time in the Maharaja exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010. Amongst them was de Monvel’s 1931 portrait that captured the Maharani’s legendary elegance, wearing a dress by Madeleine Vionnet with a diamond and emerald necklace by Mauboussin.
In 1930 they commissioned a German architect to build a new streamlined Art Moderne palace, Manik Bagh, in Indore. Every detail of this remarkable building was designed and created in Europe; equipped with the latest technologies. Avant-garde furnishings were also commissioned from designers in Berlin, London and Paris that included tabular steel chairs by architect Marcel Breuer, a chaise longue by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, as well as an ebony, chrome and leather armchair by Eileen Gray. In May 1980, the contents of their palace in Indore was sold during an auction in Monte Carlo, with a large number of pieces finding their way into the collection of the Al-Thani family of Qatar.
Two of the Art Moderne interiors of Manik Bagh Palace.
The Maharani Sanyogita died at the age of 23. She left behind their 4 year old daughter, and her husband, not even 30, was devastated.
The Maharaja married twice more, both times to American divorcées. He had a son with his third wife, whom he had married in 1943, but because of the irregularity of this marriage, his titles eventually passed to his daughter from his first marriage.
Maharaja Yeshwani Rao Holkar II and Maharani Sanyogita Devi of Indore, c. 1930.Man Ray, now part of the Al-Thani Collection.
Via Gods and Fools