Sunday, October 26, 2008
I very well remember the date, it was October 1, 1996 in London.I had just stepped out of the hotel but remembered that I had left some papers behind in the room. When I ran up to the room the telephone was ringing . Could it be Christies calling so soon? The lady at the catalogue counter had promised to look for those two exhibition catalogues and get back. Yes, she had found the two catalogue I wanted – one of the recently held sale of Daniell Oils by the P&O Company and the second,relating to an earlier sale, the “Visions of India” exhibition of the Paul Walter collection. Moreover, she had found a copy of the 1995 Paul Walter sale catalogue as well.
I had appointments to keep but Christies was round the corner from my hotel. Moreover, one could keep appointments all one’s life but never again find these catalogues (there was no E-bay then, I think). So, to Christie’s I went first, thanked the lady and pocketed the catalogues. As I was leaving, she implored me, “ don’t breathe a word about the Daniell catalogue until you leave the building, there are many people wanting one and you will start a stampede”.
Later that day, I managed to pick up “Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon” by Peter Washington, a book I had been looking for, for over a year. It is the story of the Theosophical Society at Adyar in Madras, a short distance from my permanent home. Back home in Dubai, where I was living then, I looked through the catalogues at leisure. Item No. 173 in the 1995 Paul Walter catalogue had me sitting up. It was a watercolour view of Brodie Castle in Madras and the catalogue description read :
Justinian Gantz (1802 - 62)
“View of Brodie’s Castle, from Mr Hudleston’s Garden, Madras, signed and dated ‘Just Gantz, ‘52’ (lower centre) and inscribed ‘Brodie Castle from Mr Hudleston’s Garden’ (on the reverse). Pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour, unframed 10 3/8 x 16 ½ inches”.
The accompanying visual in the catalogue was only printed in monochrome.
I knew the item had been sold (it was the previous year’s catalogue) but couldn’t put the picture out of my mind. Christies were good enough to put me in touch with the successful bidder but he responded with a price that was four times his winning bid, way too high compared to my budget. The only course was to wait, there was a good chance that buyers may not offer his price as the Christie’s catalogue surprisingly gave no information about the picture except what is quoted above ( I was later to find out why). A good chance but only a chance, not a certainty and I had no option except to wait in faint hope. And I could not put the drawing out of my mind.
The Gantz Trio of Madras
Now, for someone from Madras with an interest in period drawings of the city, any drawing by one of the Gantz family, father and two sons, is rather special. Madras alone of the Indian cities had this distinction that it could boast of three fine local artists in residence over a 75 year period ( roughly 1800 - 1875). John Gantz (1772 - 1853) is thought to be of Austrian extraction and he and his two sons, Justinian (1802 -62) and Julius Walter (1816 - 75), ran a lithographic press in the city besides being extremely accomplished artists. A little digging into the history of lithography in India leads me to believe that the Gantz press was the first private, i.e commercial litho press in the country.
Drawings of the Gantzes decorate many of the posts in this blog, including this one. You can judge for yourselves the quality of their output. And let me add that Justinian and Julius Walter were both christened at St Mary's, Madras (as were all the other children of John Gantz).
Our Outings on the Adyar Flats
Brodie Castle form Hudleston’s Garden ! This is a lovely Madras view very familiar to me and one associated with many a pleasant outing to the spot with my friend Shivakumar. That is another reason I hankered after this watercolour. I have enjoyed this beautiful view on many a Saturday and Sunday morning between 1989 and 92when I lived even nearer to the Theosophical Society than I do now. Here are two visuals of the front of Brodie Castle, a photograph published by the Hindu and a beautiful contemporary etching in my collection by Bruce Peck, presumably based on the photograph.
If Madras had its Gantzes in the 19th Century, it can boast of Bruce Peck in the 20th and 21st Centuries, again a distinction that few other cities can claim. I have quite a few of his beautiful views of Madras and Kodaikanal dating from 1988 to 95. I see from his website that he went to school in our South Indian hills, still visits India annually and produces landscape etchings of Madras, the Western Ghats and of Benares.
I said I lived very near the Theosophical Society (or Theo Soc, as abbreviated in my bird notes) and most Sunday mornings would find Shivakumar and self, equipped with binocs, telescope (mine) and tripod (his), trooping into its extensive estate of nearly 300 acres on the banks of the Adyar. The idea was to do a checklist of the birds in the Theo Soc gardens and in the Adyar mudflats alongside. Oftentimes we came across Radha Burnier, the Society’s handsome President, inspecting her demesne. As we loped past, we must have looked to her a most un-theosophical minded pair of fogeys, if not downright blots on the landscape.
After a quick ramble through the Society's gardens we would move on towards the south bank of the Adyar. It was a moment's work to slip through the barbed wire and on to the relatively drier mudflats of the Adyar estuary and a couple of hours could be spent watching water birds and birds of prey. Mind you, the river is tidal at his point, being less than a Kilometre from the Bay of Bengal. So, one had to be mindful of the odd sea snake as a bite by one of these babies is always fatal(that there is no anti venom for sea snake bite makes no difference as the poison is said to kill in a very few minutes). Not there had been any reported incidents in recent times, sea snakes seldom venture inshore but still : the sea snakes were around, we are not terribly adventurous types, we only wanted to record the birds, so we had to be careful.
The bird watching on the estuary was actually a couple of hours of hard grind with little or no ease, wading around in knee deep water at times, the sharp morning sun beating down on us . But we enjoyed ourselves for there were waders by the thousands and birds of prey soaring overhead, especially the magnificent White Bellied Sea Eagle and some Harriers. And the wind in the face always gave us enthusiasm for the vigil. Above all else was the view : a sheet of water with the rivermouth and the Bay of Bengal to the right, Chettinad Palace, a Rajah's palace on the north bank, shimmering in the haze. Also, an unbelievable calm in the midst of an urban setting, something one can find only on the Adyar flats, with the bridge and the traffic nearly 2 KM's to the left. George Arundale, a past president of Theo Soc who no doubt had enjoyed this view, wrote : "One touch of Adyar changes us forever ". By Adyar, he surely meant the Society but I always thought those words equally described this riverine idyll.
Looking across the river, Brodie Castle is the first landmark to the left followed, to the right, by a temple, the Chettinad Palace, the Quibble Island Cemetery and so on with the view merging inot the distant Forshore Estate, an old housing development.
The House that James Brodie Built
James Brodie was a civil servant of the East India Company in Madras from the year 1784 and was Garrison Storekeeper in about 1800. In 1796 the Company gave him a grant of 11 acres of land on the North Bank of the Adyar river on which he quickly built himself a large house. In fact, a survey of 1798 has been found with the house marked on it. Brodie is described as : "tall and slender; with a calm and placid countenance .... wore powdered hair with a queue behind, a sky blue coat, with two or three large buttons .... in the fashion of the close of 1790 - odd". He married Miss Ann Storey in 1785 and got into some trouble with the East India Company in 1800 for trading on his own account, being asked either to resign his position with the Company or to desist from such trading.
Brodie built himself a grand, classical house with a colonnaded and pedimented portico but added a medieval or Scottish touch in the form of two castellated turrets. Brodie suffered a reversal in his fortunes sometime after the construction of the house and had to let it to a succession of civil servants. He did manage to resume the property sometime before his death by drowning in 1802. Brodie was fond of boating and the house backs on to the Adyar with steps leading down to the river. Ann Brodie apparently had a dream about her husband drowning in the river and cautioned him against going to the river. But he did and was drowned in the Adyar.
The glory days of Brodie Castle were by no means over with the death of its owner. For the next 150 years it housed the senior civil servants of Madras, the property having reverted to the Company . "Brodie Castle, the most imaginative of the merchants' palaces, with its long drawing-room jutting out into the Adyar river and catching every breeze, was occupied in 1930 by Charles Cotton, then Chief Secretary to the Madras Government, who had furnished it with a fine collection of 18th Century furniture and china made in or for South India and the Daniell brothers' paintings and prints of local scenes. .... I remember well the scene one morning as the great man, a spruce little figure in his white topee, silk suit, monocle and Old Etonian tie, emerged on the steps of the portico, while his car and attendants waited below". Thus Humphrey Trevelyan in 'The India We Left'.
The building is now in use as the College of Music and is still in good overall condition, in spite of being subjected to the TLC of the state public works crew (for example, a mini temple has been installed in the main drawing room which still catches every nuance of the Adyar breeze). An entire three KM stretch of road leading up to the castle was called Brodie's Road but was renamed i the 1960's. Happily, the final short spur or home stretch of some 200 Metres leading to the building is still called Brodie Castle Street.
Hudleston's Garden from the North Bank
Hudleston's Garden is in the Theo Soc estate on the south bank of the Adyar. John Hudleston was a civil servant of the East India Company of about the same period as Brodie and it is likely they new each other.
I found this pic from a past auction listing on the Christie's site. It is a watercolour by one F.J.Delafour of a view across the Adyar which is taken from the north bank.
The Christies notes to the listing state :
"Delafour was an artist from the circle of Justinian Gantz, eldest son of John Gantz. A signed, inscribed and dated watercolour of the same subject is now in the India Office Library, see fig. 1. The inscription reads 'West View of the Adyar River from the Terrace of the Adyar Villa. Just Gantz, Madras. 1836'.
Justinian Gantz is described in the East Indian Register as a 'Miniature Painter'. He helped his father with the family's lithographic press and specialised in making drawings of the houses of his European clients.
In the early, turbulent days of Madras, the Adyar River was the scene of many violent incidents, but by the time of the present picture it had become a tranquil and elegant suburb, as indeed it remains today. At the extreme right of the picture can be seen a part of the famous Marmalong Bridge, built by an Armenian in 1726 but now replaced by a modern bridge. The bungalow seen across the river became the home of the Theosophical Society of Madras".
Christies topographic description is wrong in that the bridge at the extreme right of the drawing is not Marmalong bridge which is at least another 4 or 5 KMs to the south west on the river's winding course (and, because of many bends in the Adyar, has never been visible from this point at any time). The bridge depicted by Delafour is the Elphinstone Bridge, also called now the Adyar bridge, which was in use till 1973 and which, though unused now, still stands. The Elphinstone Bridge in the pic was built in 1840, in the Governorship of Lord Elphinstone, so the dating for the picture, 1836, is wrong. I suspec it was drawn in 1856 but that the handwritten 5 was a bad 5 and mistaken for 3.
I was dumbstruck on seeing this listing and the picture for more reasons than one but, to understand why, you must see it in its virtual full size state so let me send you to the Christies web page of the listing. You can enlarge and zoom in then.
Firstly, was Delafour just another lazy fellow who preferred to draw from the comfort of the shade, as it would seem, or was he, in fact, trying to take the view from an unusual, remarkable perspective. The vista from the set back position of the artist is neatly bisected by one of the columns of the terrace. And, moreover Delafour from this set back, has given us a wide angle view of the river,his detailing of theforeground in no way detracting from the sweep of the Adyar and the grand setting of the houses on the south bank.
Next, I realised I was probably looking at Hudleston's Garden on the far bank. It is the building on the left, the spot from which Just Gantz had drawn his view of Brodie Castle across the river. So these two watercolours could be a matching set of views across the Adyar river, one of Brodie Castle and the other of Hudleston's Garden.
I was actually in London on the 22nd May, 2008, the date of the Christies auction. It was an extended visit of 8 weeks from the middle of April, the company I work for was getting listed on the London Stock Exchange and the listing came through by the end of May. So although I knew about the auction I had no time for it, not being able to look left or right at that juncture. In any case, I would not have been able to match the winning bid and yet .... and yet .... . I eat my heart out when I think of this picture that I can not own, a companion piece to Brodie Castle. But I compliment whoever bought it because he or she had the good sense to be able to spot a remarkable drawing. I only hope the buyer knows the background and has a Madras connection.
Of the many Hudlestons who served in Madras over two centuries plus there are three from a distinguished branch who are our men. John Hudleston (1749 - 1835) entered the Madras Civil Service in 1766 and probably knew his contemporary, James Brodie. By 1782, he was Military Secretary to the Madras Government and a member of the Council by 1790. As Military Secretary, he was instrumental in negotiating a treaty of peace with Hyder Ali in the first Mysore War and retired to England around 1800, becoming a Memeber of Parliament and a Director of the East India Company. He was the one who got a grant of the 28 acre property from the Company and most likely built the house - a garden house as the English termed such houses - as the style of the building accords with that of many others built in Madras around 1800.
John's son, Josiah Andrew (1799 - 1865), also entered the Madras Civil Service and retired as Chief Collector of Madras in 1855. Josiah Hudleston was also a famous guitar musician and composer. His son, also Josiah (1826 - 92), was a Colonel in the Madras Army and probably retired in the mid to late 1870's when the house was sold to an Indian. In 1882, Col Olcott and Madam Blavatsky, the founders of Theo Soc, bought the property from one Muthiah Pillai for a down payment of Rs 1000 with a mortgage of Rs 7500 on it which they assumed. For the full story, including intimations to Madam Balvatsky from the "Master", let me send you here. For the money they paid, what the Theosophists got was about 28 acres, the main house, a tank (which was converted to a tennis court), a swimming pool, stables and two substantial out-buildings -one, a grand octagonal house which Col Olcott took for his residence, and the other, a still more spacious structure which is used as a guest house today. As you can see, the Octagon House is washing its face at the present time (and seems to need no help in this from Shivakumar or me) .
The theosophists exulted over their acquisition. Col Olcott wrote that it is "hard to imagine our pleasure in sttling in a home of our own, where we should be free from landlords, changes, and the other worries of tenancy. Our beautiful home seemed a fairy place to us". And Madam Blavatsky : "It is simply delightful. What air we have here; what nights! And what marvellous quiet! .... I am sitting quietly writing, and now and then gaze over the ocean, sparkling all over as if a living thing really .... The moon here against the deep dark blue sky seems twice as big and ten times brighter than your European mother-of-pearl ball".
I was lucky to be able to contact David Hyde, 3 x great grandson of John Hudleston, courtesy that wonder engine, the internet and by Dave's kind permission the pics of John and Josiah Andrew Hudleston are borrowed from Joan Hyde's Scrapbook. For the full fascinating history of this family's life in New Zealand,written by Dave and his twin sister Audrey, please go to Dave Hyde's site here. The Hudleston family crest has been borrowed from here. Finding in Dave Hyde a descendant of the Huddlestons of Madras made the day for me. He has plans to visit Madras in a year's time and I am looking forward to taking him round to the Theo Soc!
Reciprocal Views of Brodie & Hudleston's : A Topographic Reconstruct
I needed to wait for the monsoon to let up a bit before I could go into Theo Soc and Brodie Castle again to shoot some of the pics here and I was able to do that today (more pics hoisted on Picasa). I hauled Shivakumar, who lives right next door to Theo Soc, out of bed bright and early this A.M and we were outside Hudleston's by half past six. There were two other reasons I wanted to visit the spots : firstly I remembered that there were two other Gantz watercolours in the British Library collection and it suddenly struck me that they might be of Brodie Castle. The BL descriptions in each case simply state "A European House in Madras" etc but I went back to the site and Bingo! they are Brodie views by Just Gantz!! The first one below is a frontal view, and the third is of the house taken from Adyar mudflats, mid river (both drawn in 1841). I have interposed the other Brodie watercolour (from Hudelston's Garden) between the two for comparison.
Simple enough but, without the British Library going to the trouble and expense of hoisting all those wonderful images online, where would I be? But there was another question that was troubling me and that is with reference to the striking watercolour view by Delafour from the north bank. I was sure the building to the left of the column was Hudleston's but I had to go to the north bank of the river to make sure. And, was the view taken from Brodie's? Bingo again! First below is the pic I took today from the first floor terrace or verandah of Brodie's and below that is the Delafour again in all its glory :
There are a couple of things to be explained : firstly, you will see that I had to cheat a bit in that I took the pic from the first floor of Brodie. Given the overgrowth and the dense treeline there wa nothing for it but to go upstairs. But Delafour took his view from the ground level terrace or verandah (in his drawing, you can make out the stockade at the river bank).
Second, you will see that the hocus-pocus or superstructure in my digicam shot, additions by the Theosophists to provide rooms for Annie Besant, is missing from the Delafour view of the 1840's. But if you can visualise the pile minus the superstructure, it is Hudleston's and the angles are about right. Here is a fuller view of Hudleston's from Brodie's across the river :
So, the Gantz of Brodie from Hudleston's and the Delafour of Hudleston (from Brodie) are reciprocal pictures of the sisters facing each other across the river. Because some important people lived in the two houses : a succession of Hudlestons in the eponymous house and, in Brodie's, a succession of senior civil servants. I am trying to find out who lived in Brodie Castle in the 1840's if the Madras Archives can dig out the details for me.
And, there are three Gantz views of Brodie Castle, reflecting its importance in 19th Century Madras, and a delectable one of Hudleston's by Delafour. I am glad I own at least one of them (yes, that Brodie watercolour by Gantz was put up for auction again at Christies, I came to know of it on 1st Oct '99, exactly 3 years to the day I first learnt of its existence and mine was the winning bid at a price below my original offer to the seller!): but I know I will never get to own the two with the Brit Lib. And what makes me eat my heart out is the Delafour because another individual has it and I don't know if it will ever come up for sale and, if it does, whether or not I can afford it!!
But I console myself that the Gantz watercolour that I have is a picture that neither the BL nor the Delafour owner will get to have. And that, being a local, I have been able to figure out what neither Christies nor BL knew about the Delafour and the Gantz drawings : why, they didn't even know which buildings those were!
The Theo Soc
In a post about the two houses, something must be said about the Theo Soc which has been using Hudleston's house for its headquarters for the last 126 years. The Society may also be expected to hold the property in perpetuity. I am totally ignorant about philosophy and theosophy but I am proud of this old society which provides us so much lung space. I am very fond of George Arundale's words about the Adyar; to quote them more fully : " Adyar touches each one of us here .... .... . While we are here we are changed, little or much. When we go away, something of Adyar goes with us, for one touch of Adyar changes us forever".
The Society, in the past, had many outstanding and colourful characters associated with it : Col Henry Steel Olcott, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Charles Leadbeater, J.Krishnamurti, Rukmini Arundale. As Peter Washington demonstrates in his "Madam Blavatsky's Baboon", some were colourful rather than outstanding. There is the 'conjuring trick' phase of Madam Blavatsky's time and then there is Charles Leadbeater whose tastes, Washington reports, "ran to small boys and tapioca pudding, in that order".
Today, the Theo Soc is a highly respectable institution, almost stodgily so, a good neighbour to all of us that goes about its business quietly. Only, I suspect its memebership is not growing as it should and I am reminded of Stan Laurel's words to Oliver Hardy in the movie, Chump at Oxford : " You think they would advertise this place, to let people know it was on the map". But I am told there is a membership drive on at present.
I will always remember Col Olcott as Shivakumar and I walk about the Theo Soc's sprawling estate, watching the odd bird or the huge colony of fruit eating bats that inhabits its trees. Col Olcott's vision for the Society recalls to my mind the threnody of Mark Antony to the forum :
"Moreover he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber. He hath left them you
And to your heirs forever - Common Pleasure
To walk abroad and recreate yourselves".
The fruit bats, committed and resident theosophists that they are, would surely agree - even if one of them deposited a gooey heap on my sleeve this morning in token of its contempt at my puerile blog posts.
As I complete and publish this post on Diwali eve, I wish you all a Happy Diwali.