Delectable Collectibles – Chasing down art collections in Chennai

Updated: Dec 03, 2013, 13:53 PM IST

Avril-Ann Braganza

Paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, Burmese baskets, fibreglass sculptures... each piece of art in these homes in Chennai has a story behind it.

When in shringara (beautiful) Chennai, you are in the midst of myraid experiences, both traditonal and modern. Here, art and history go beyond temples, churches, museums and art galleries to find prized places in modern homes. Taj Coromandel in association with Apparao Galleries, offers guests a chance to get intimate with this culturally dynamic city through an ensemble of captivating experiences that lure guests to discover more. We set out on the Collector’s Eye tour, to visit the homes of renowned art and antique collectors in the city.


Our first stop was the home of Lily Vijayaraghavan, which is a mini museum in itself. Her collection, based on the concept of shringara (beauty), includes the decorative arts. Dancers on a South Indian wooden chariot-piece, grace the wall above the wooden swing in her little sit-out. You can’t help but admire the 300-year-old Mysore and Tanjore paintings, made from gold leaf and vegetable dyes that adorn the walls of her home. “Artists didn’t use tracing paper in those days.
They would face east, recite shlokas and then see the image in their dreams. Only then would they execute the painting. There was divinity in art,” she says, passionately explaining each piece.

Lily sourced her collection from different parts of India, especially from Mumbai and North India. “My grandfather was a collector. I have inherited some of my collection from him, but the rest is my own. It has taken me 40 years to put together this collection,” she says. Her house is home to different collectibles—bronze, brass and copper banana-leaf plates used for offerings in temples; incense spoons and sacrificial utensils; make-up and money boxes; antique lamps and lamps carved with Kathakali faces; polychrome panels with vegetable dyes; miniature perfume bottles; foot scrubbers adorned with peacocks and swans; and ivory combs, scissors, tops, back scratchers, attar containers used a hundred years ago and vegetables and fruits given as part of a bride’s trousseau. Her kitchen is a museum of Chettinad-style utensils and urns. As I look around, she shows me an Idiyappam press carved with parrots, and an ornate spoon rack from a bride’s trousseau.

Lamps are Lily’s favourite. “I love my entire collection, of course, but I still look for lamps wherever I go; especially ones from South India. The lamps should be pleasant to look at, simple and elegant. For me, simplicity is grand,” she says.


Our next stop was the home of writer and art connoisseur, Nirmala Lakshman. The works of Senaka Senanayke, Jehangir Sabavala, Syed Haider Raza, Shridhar Iyer, S Harshavardhana and J Swaminathan decorate her home. “Nirmala has been collecting contemporary art for 20 years and is an expert on the who’s who of modern art. She invests in works that will be priceless in a few years,” says Shreya Singh, the events manager of Apparao Galleries.

Daylight streams in through her glass-panelled living room and you can admire the works of art without any artificial lighting. One of the walls boasts an old pichwai painting opposite a contemporary Raza artwork. Both Lily and Nirmala have aesthectically juxtpaosed old and modern paintings in the homes, carefully combining art in a living space.


As the day drew to a close, we made our way to gallerist Sharan Apparao’s home. The tour begins in the garden, where one can see Arzan Khambatta’s work in metal. As you step over the threshold, a fibreglass sculpture from George K’s Aravani series, which focusses on transgender, greets us. We climb the staircase; its walls and landing are adorned with different works; a stainless steel dupatta by Puneet Kaushik hangs over the banister. Sharan’s home is a reflection of her personality. She loves modern art and antiques. Her collection reflects her appreciation of aesthetics and art that pleases her.

A 1970 Akbar Padamsee painting occupies a prime position at Sharan’s home. In the next room, there’s more exquisite work—a pink chair made from real dentures by Mitu Sen, Burmese baskets, crosses, a sculpture made from tea bags depicting female genitalia, by artist Janine Mongillat, paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and works by Shibu Natesan, Shambhavi Singh and PG Dinesh.

A collector for over three decades, Sharan’s favourite work of art is her coffee table, which is made from store signage that dates back to 1906. “It has always been a point of conversation about my life as a collector, my need to live with my sense of aesthetics and my ability to personalise my spaces. The old crafts are from markets and shops and dealers of old items, while the modern works are from today’s artists and textile outlets,” says Sharan.