Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Maharini Sita Devi of Baroda

I have always been fascinated by India, especially the lives of the Maharajahs and their Maharanis, their palaces, clothes and jewellery are something to behold.  Sadly in the case of Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda fabulous wealth and excess did not ultimately bring happiness...

Maharani Sita Devi Sahib of Baroda, born May 12, 1917 in Madras, India, died February 15, 1989 in Paris, France. She was known as the "Indian Wallis Simpson". She was a colourful lady who led an extravagant life for over 40 years and was a member of the international jet set. The Maharani was the daughter of the Zamindar of Pithapuram - Sri Raja Rao Venkata Kumara Mahipati Surya Rau Bahadur Garu and his wife Sri Rani Chinnamamba Devi of Mirzapuram.

Sita Devi first married Apparao Bahadur, Zamindar of Vayyur. By him she had three children.
She met her second husband, Maharajah Pratap Singh Gaekwar of Baroda, at the Madras horse races in 1943. The Maharajah was, at that time, considered the eighth richest man in world. It was also reported he was the second richest Indian prince. The Maharajah was mesmerized by Sita Devi. The lovers consulted with his legal team. The lawyers recommended that the Hindu Sita Devi convert to Mohammedanism. That would dissolve her marriage to the Zamindar under Indian law. She embraced Islam only to then adopt Hinduism once again. The Maharajah took her as his second wife. Which caused consternation with the British authorities, as this violated the anti-bigamy laws that the previous Maharajah of Baroda enacted. The British Viceroy in New Delhi summoned the Gaekwar to contest this marriage. The Maharajah argued that the law applied to the subjects of Baroda, and that he being their monarch was exempt from this law. This was confirmed by the Viceroy's legal advice. The British Government accepted the marriage, but didn't refer to the Maharani as "her highness" as was the protocol for the princely states.

In 1946, The Maharajah took his second wife on a tour of Europe. The reason for their visit was to find a suitable residence away from India, because they feared the integration of the princely states into the Union threaten their extravagant way of life. They found that the independent principality of Monaco was a suitable place to set up their second home. They bought a mansion in Monte Carlo and the Maharani took up permanent residence. The Maharajah visited frequently bringing some of the great treasures of Baroda to Monaco. The Maharani became the custodian of these treasures.

The couple also made two trips to the United States after the war. They went on a spending spree, buying all types of luxurious items. It was widely reported that they spent ten million dollars on one of those trips. This was much to the Indian Government's chagrin. Indian Officials did an audit of the principality's finances. They concluded that the Maharajah had taken several large interest free loans from the Baroda treasury. They demanded that it be returned. The prince complied by making several payments from his eight million dollar per year income.

The princely couple transferred a copious amount from the Baroda treasury, including some of its most famous jewellery, including four celebrated pearl carpets, a famed seven-strand necklace of priceless pearls (called the Baroda pearls), a three-strand diamond necklace with the famous Pink Brazilian Star of the South 128.80-carat (25.76 g) diamond and the English Dresden 78.53-carat (15.71 g) diamond. The princely couple also had custody of the Empress Eugenie and the yellow Moon of Baroda diamonds. When Baroda was integrated into the newly independent India, the Government was appalled to find that the Baroda Treasury had been looted. The Indian Officials were eventually able to recover some of the items, but some of the jewels had been transferred to the Maharani's ownership. She had some of the jewels reset to make it more difficult for India to reclaim them.

The Baroda Pearls, before and after

Years after the Maharani's death some of the precious items were discovered. In 1994 the pearl carpet were found in a Geneva vault. It was sold to an Arab prince for $31 million. The Star of the South and other gems were located with jewellers in Amsterdam.

Eventually, India, due to the discrepancies and possible fraud, deposed the Maharajah in 1951 and his eldest son by his first wife succeeded him. The couple technically, were not heads of state any longer, but they insisted on still being referred by their former titles.

She gave the Maharajah one son, born in 1945, his name was Sayaji Rao Gaekwar. Nicknamed "Princie", he was the apple of her eye.
She attended some of the most exclusive events on the globe and partied with other international luminaries, i.e. Aristotle Onassis.

In 1953 the Maharani sold a pair of bejewelled anklets to Harry Winston. They had several large emeralds and diamonds. The jeweller set these stones into a spectacular necklace that was purchased by the Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess wore this to a 1957 New York ball that was also attended by Sita Devi. When other guests were admiring the necklace. The Maharani was heard to exclaim that those jewels looked just as nice on her feet. The embarrassed Duchess returned the necklace to Harry Winston.

She was a car enthusiast and was reportedly very fond of her Mercedes W126 which was custom made for her by Mercedes Benz. At the 1969 Ascot Gold Cup she invited guests to touch the 30-carat (6.0 g) sapphire on her right hand for good luck. Esquire Magazine included Sita Devi and Princie on their list of "fun couples" for 1969.

Sita Devi divorced the Gaekwar in 1956. He promptly moved to London.

Even after the dissolution of her second marriage, she clung to her exalted title. Her Roll-Royce still sported the armorial insignia of Baroda. She would reminisce about the days, when she was referred to as royalty and received 101 gun salutes, this was, at best an embellishment of the truth; the British never gave these privileges to any of the Indian princes. Prince Rainier awarded citizenship of Monaco to both Sita Devi and Princie. She maintained a Paris apartment as well. She continued to live in grand style, drinking Baron de Rothschild’s Bordeaux, rearranging her Louis XVI furniture and attending exclusive parties. When travelling she brought along a large wardrobe, reported to be a thousand saris, hundreds of Paris of shoes and of course her jewellery. But her finances were eventually exhausted enough for her to secretly auction some of her beloved jewels in 1974.

The Maharani suffered a tragic event in 1985, Princie's life ended one night when after his 40th birthday, he committed suicide. His death was attributed to alcoholism, drug addiction and his voracious sexual appetite. Sita Devi herself died four years later of natural causes. Some speculated it was due to a broken heart.

Two excellent books on the lives and the jewellery of the Maharajahs available here

Text Source Wikipedia

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Genius of Avedon

Gloria Vanderbilt

Jacqueline de Ribes

Barbara Streisand

 Audrey Hepburn

Brigitte Bardot


 Lauren Hutton

 Sophia Loren


 Jean Shrimpton


 Kate Moss

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend

Friday, November 26, 2010

Consuelo Vanderbilt Duchess of Marlborough

Paul Cesar Hellau

Continuing with my theme of Boldini's subjects I bring you Consuelo Vanderbilt.  Consuelo was an heiress born into the prestigious, wealthy American Vanderbilt family.  At the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century European aristocrats were struggling to maintain their country piles, they may have had vast estates, servants and titles but money was thin on the ground, in order to maintain their lifestyles and save their estates a lot of them had to make advantageous marriages to wealthy women usually sought from across the pond, in return the wealthy Americans gained social status and often begrudging acceptance into Europe's ruling classes.

Many of these marriages turned out to be happy unions such as the marriage depicted in Downton Abbey (much missed in the UK but being televised in the US soon) but sadly for Consuelo this was not the case...

Born in New York City, 2nd March 1877, she was the only daughter of William Kissam Vanderbilt, a New York rail road millionaire, and his first wife, a Mobile, Alabama belle and budding suffragist, Alva Erskine Smith (1853–1933, later Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont). Her Spanish name was in honour of her godmother, Maria Consuelo Iznaga Clement (1858–1909), a half-Cuban, half-American socialite who created a social stir a year earlier when she married the fortune-hunting George Montagu, Viscount Mandeville, a union of Old World and New World that caused the groom's father, the 7th Duke of Manchester, to openly wonder if his son and heir had married a "Red Indian." (Consuelo, Duchess of Manchester was also the basis of the character Conchita Closson in Edith Wharton's unfinished novel The Buccaneers.)

 Consuelo Vanderbilt was largely dominated by her mother, Alva, who was determined that Consuelo would make a great marriage like that of her famous namesake, even though she lacked a good pedigree.
In those days, there were many weddings of European aristocrats with American heiresses. For the nobles of the Old World, such unions were shameful, but useful in financial terms; the nobility looked upon the Americans who married into their caste as intruders, unworthy of their new position.

How tiny is that waist!

 In her biography, Consuelo Vanderbilt later described how she was required to wear a steel rod, which ran down her spine and fastened around her waist and over her shoulders, to improve her posture. She was educated entirely at home by governesses and tutors and learned foreign languages at an early age. Her mother was a strict disciplinarian and whipped her with a riding crop for minor infractions. When, as a teenager, Consuelo objected to the clothing her mother had selected for her, Alva Vanderbilt told her that "I do the thinking, you do as you are told."

Like her godmother, Consuelo Vanderbilt also attracted numerous title-bearing suitors anxious to trade social position for cash. Her mother reportedly received at least five proposals for her hand. Consuelo was allowed to consider the proposal of just one of the men, Prince Francis Joseph of Battenberg, but Consuelo developed an instant aversion to him. None of the others, however, was good enough for Alva Vanderbilt, herself a daughter of a mere merchant. Luckily, as opposed to more than a few contemporary heiresses in search of her particular prince charming, Consuelo Vanderbilt was a great beauty, with a face compelling enough to cause the playwright Sir James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, to write, "I would stand all day in the street to see Consuelo Marlborough get into her carriage." Oxford undergraduate Guy Fortescue later described how he and his friends were captivated by her "piquante oval face perched upon a long slender neck, her enormous dark eyes fringed with curling lashes, her dimples, and her tiny teeth when she smiled. She came to embody the "slim, tight look" that was in vogue during the Edwardian era.

Paul Cesar Hellau

Determined to secure the highest-ranking mate possible for her only daughter, a union that would emphasize the pre eminence of the Vanderbilt family in New York society, Alva Vanderbilt engineered a meeting between Consuelo and the land-rich, money-poor Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough, chatelain of Blenheim Palace. The matchmaker was a minor American heiress turned major English hostess, Lady Paget (née Mary "Minnie" Stevens), the daughter of Mrs. Paran Stevens, the socially ambitious widow of an American hotel entrepreneur who had successfully obtained admittance to the exclusive New York society of the fabled "Four Hundred". Lady Paget, always short of money, soon became a sort of international marital agent, introducing eligible American heiresses to British noblemen.

Unfortunately Consuelo Vanderbilt had no interest in the duke, being secretly engaged to an American, Winthrop Rutherfurd Her mother cajoled, wheedled, begged, and then, ultimately, ordered her daughter to marry Marlborough. When Consuelo – a docile teenager whose only notable characteristic at the time was abject obedience to her fearsome mother – made plans to elope, she was locked in her room as Alva threatened to murder Rutherfurd. Still, she refused. It was only when Alva Vanderbilt claimed that her health was being seriously and irretrievably undermined by Consuelo's stubbornness and appeared to be on death's door did the gullible girl acquiesce. Alva made an astonishing recovery from her entirely phantom illness, and when the wedding took place, Consuelo stood at the altar reportedly weeping behind her veil. The duke, for his part, gave up the woman he reportedly loved back in England and collected $2.5 million (approximately $75 million today) in railroad stock as a marriage settlement. 

Blenheim Palace, the Marlborough Family Seat

Consuelo Vanderbilt was married at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New York City, New York, on 6 November 1895, to Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough (1871–1934) They had two sons, John Albert William Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford (who became 10th Duke of Marlborough) and Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill.

 John Singer Sargant

Giovanni Boldini, Consuelo with Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill

The new duchess was adored by the poor and less fortunate tenants on her husband's estate, to whom she visited and provided assistance. She later became involved with other philanthropic projects and was particularly interested in those that affected mothers and children. She was also a social success with royalty and the aristocracy of Britain. However, given the ill-fitting match between the duke and his wife, it was only a matter of time before their marriage was in name only. The duchess eventually was smitten by her husband's handsome cousin, the Hon. Reginald Fellowes (the liaison did not last, to the relief of Fellowes's parents) while the duke fell under the spell of Gladys Marie Deacon, an eccentric American of little money but, like Consuelo, dazzling to look at and of considerable intellect.

The Marlboroughs separated in 1906, divorced in 1921, and the marriage was annulled, at the duke's request and Consuelo's assent, on 19 August 1926.

 Though largely embarked upon as a way to facilitate the Anglican duke's desire to convert to Roman Catholicism, the annulment, to the surprise of many, also was fully supported by the former duchess's mother, who testified that the Vanderbilt–Marlborough marriage had been an act of unmistakable coercion. "I forced my daughter to marry the Duke," Alva Belmont told an investigator, adding: "I have always had absolute power over my daughter." In later years, Consuelo and her mother enjoyed a closer, easier relationship.

Consuelo's second marriage, on 4 July 1921, was to Lt. Col. Jacques Balsan, a record-breaking pioneer French balloon, airplane, and hydroplane pilot who once worked with the Wright Brothers. Also a textile manufacturing heir, Balsan was a younger brother of Etienne Balsan, who was an important early lover of Coco Chanel. Jacques Balsan died in 1956 at the age of 88.

Consuelo with Winston Churchill

After the annulment with the Duke of Marlborough, she still maintained ties with favourite Churchill relatives, particularly Winston Churchill (who was himself the son of an American mother). He was a frequent visitor to her château, in St. Georges Motel, a small commune near Dreux about 50 miles from Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s, where he completed his last painting before the war.

The Glitter and the Gold, Consuelo Balsan's insightful but not entirely candid autobiography, was published in 1953; it was ghostwritten by Stuart Preston, an American writer who was an art critic for The New York Times. A reviewer in the New York Times called it "an ideal epitaph of the age of elegance."

She died at Southampton, Long Island, New York on 6 December 1964, and was buried alongside her younger son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill, in the churchyard at St Martin's Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, England, near her former home, Blenheim Palace.

Consuelo's autobiography the Glitter and the Gold is available here

Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt by Amanda Mackenzie Stewart, is available here

Text Source from Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I have started thinking about interiors again, I used to think about them a lot, scour antique fairs, brocantes and e bay for wonderful treasures, our house is almost done, so I have been concentrating on other things.  Recently I have been thinking about dressing tables and mirrors, I don't have a proper dressing table, just a chest of drawers with a mirror plonked on the top, I would love a proper dressing table.  I covet the dressing table in the picture above it belongs to Georgina Chapman co founder of Marchesa, I have a much better photo of it from another magazine, which is in my scrapbook, I can't post it because I don't know how the new scanner works the scanner is broken.

I love mirrors, used correctly they can make a room look fabulous.  Below are more images of dressing tables and mirrory things that caught my eye.

'Love' I want this one!

Love the curtains and the polished floor, the dressing table looks pretty enough but no drawers!

This one is pretty it reminds me of my Mothers

 Love the wood with the mirrors


Via Home, to be honest will probably go for something more like this, much more fitting for a farmhouse and I have similar one's in the guestrooms.

Via Home, rethink, this could work in a farmhouse

Love the mirror but I would send that vase flying!

Via Jeanne at Collage of Life, seriously coveting those mirrored doors

 Via Architect Design, this bathroom is well over the top but so glamourous, although I would worry about slipping on that floor!

Fit for a Maharajah, Palace in Jaipur

The ultimate mirrored room 'Grande Galerie des Glaces', Palace of Versailles, no wonder there was a revolution!