Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara
Built by the Gaekwads in 1890, the Laxmi Vilas Palace is one of the largest private residences in the world. Its construction was commission by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III who was a Maratha chieftain and the King of Baroda state. The building’s design is the true amalgamation of Hindu and European architecture and contains a museum, gardens, assembly halls and a zoo that has been reduced to a crocodile pit.
Lukshmi Villas Palace, an extravagant building of the Indo-Saracenic school, was built by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890 at a cost of GBP180,000. Major Charles Mant was the architect. It is reputed to have been the largest private dwelling built till date and four times the size of Buckingham Palace. At the time of construction it boasted the most modern amenities such as elevators and the interior is reminiscent of a large European country house. It remains the residence of the Royal Family, who continue to be held in high esteem by the residents of Baroda. Its ornate Darbar Hall, which is sometimes the venue of music concerts and other cultural events, has a Venetian mosaic floor, Belgium stained glass windows and walls with intricate mosaic decorations. Outside of the Darbar Hall is an Italinate courtyard of water fountains. The palace houses a remarkable collection of old armory and sculptures in bronze, marble & terracotta by Fellici. The grounds were landscaped by William Goldring, a specialist from Kew Gardens. The palace is open to the public and an audio tour is available. The Palace “compound” is of over 500 acres and houses a number of buildings, particularly the LVP Banquets & Conventions , Moti Baug Palace and the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum building. Adjacent to the Moti Baug Palace and the Museum is the Moti Bagh Cricket Ground, the offices of the Baroda Cricket Association and a very rare indoor teak floored tennis court and badminton court (where the All India Badminton Championships were previously held). The Museum building was constructed as a school for the Maharaja’s children. Today a large number of works of art belonging to the Royal family have been displayed in the museum. The most remarkable of these is the fabulous collection of the paintings of Raja Ravi Verma, who was specially commissioned by the then Maharaja of Baroda. The collection includes portraits of the Royal family in addition to the paintings based on Hindu mythology for which Raja Ravi Varma was famous. The Maharaja constructed a miniature railway line, which circled the mango orchard within the palace compound, to take his children from the school to the main Lakshmi Vilas Palace. The train engine was recently refurbished by Ranjitsinh Pratapsinh Gaekwad, who was the maharaja during the time, and can be seen at the entrance to the Museum. The palace also boasted a small zoo. The only remnant of the zoo is the pond where a number of crocodiles remain. The Navlakhi (literally meaning “of nine hundred thousand”) Well, a fine ‘baoli’ or step well, is 50 meters north of the palace. In the 1930s Maharaja Pratapsinh created a golf course for use by his European guests. In the 1990s Pratapsinh’s grandson Samarjitsinh, a former Ranji trophy cricket player, renovated the course and opened it to the public. The audio tour of the palace gives a deep insight to the history behind it.
Maharaja Fatesingh Museum – The collection of Maharaja Fatesingh Museum Trust is in the school building situated in the Lukshmi Villas Palace compound, formerly known as the Motibaug School built in 1875 for Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III. Maharaja Pratapsinghrao Gaekwad and later Maharaja Fatesinghrao Gaekwad, the founder of the trust, as well as other members of the royal family including Maharaja Ranjitsinh Gaekwad completed their schooling here. After appropriately redesigning the existing school building to house the art treasures, Dr. H. Goetz, a renowned museum director and an expert art historian, was engaged to arrange the display of this museum. Today the lush Lukshmi Villas gardens add greatly to the quiet and serene atmosphere of the museum. The museum was opened to the public in April, 1961 by Nawab Mehndi Nawaz Jung, the then governor of Gujarat.The museum collection consists of objects d’arts collected by the Gaekwads of Baroda, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III (1875-1939), the visionary of Baroda city. It is during his reign that Baroda made great strides in all round development and was recognized as one of the foremost and most progressive states of India. This great ruler consulted various renowned artists of Indian subcontinent and Europe to choose art pieces to decorate the various palaces in Baroda and other palaces in India. It is his efforts and interests that inspired Maharaja Fatesinghrao Gaekwad to create this trust and the museum to preserve this great treasure and make it available to the public for their admiration and education.Raja Ravi Varma, a prince from the Travancore state who was the first Indian to use oil as a painting medium, was called to Baroda. In his style of painting Ravi Varma diverged from the prevailing trend by employing the European tradition of painting for Indian themes. Some of his outstanding paintings on mythological subjects and portraits of the Baroda Royal Family gives an idea of the time spent by this artist in Baroda. The versatile Venetian artist, Felici, was employed by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in the court to advise in the purchase of western objects d’arts and to create some for the various palaces. Felici created many bronzes, marbles and oils, some of which are exhibited in this outstanding museum. The collections of foreign art consist of Chinese and Japanese porcelain and enamel, bronzes and paintings exhibited in the western gallery; copies of famous Greek and Roman sculptures are displayed in the eastern gallery; European oil paintings (two halls, two rooms and the south gallery) one room equipped with 18th century French furniture; copies of 17th and 18th century master paintings and a gallery of European applied art, mainly porcelain and glass. The European sculptures and paintings comprise copies of famous masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, and original works belonging to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In 2000, the Maharaja Fatesingh Museum Trust displayed the Gaekwad collection of the works of Raja Ravi Varma to celebrate its centenary year. The renowned artist spent several years in Baroda on several trips to paint commissioned works ordered by the enlightened connoisseur Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, at whose investiture the artist was first invited. One of the ideas was to put together the entire collection of some of the best works done by the artist but also to start an activity in the comparatively small but exquisitely arranged art gallery standing in the Lukshmi Vilas Palace campus amongst some of the exquisite natural environment. In 2003, the major collection of Raja Ravi Varma was taken to the prestigious National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai and since then the museum has organized various exhibitions. Today museums all over the globe are active in organizing such types of exhibition to attract visitors. Visit to these temples of art is a must as a visitor.