Thursday, 25 July 2019

Art & Culture: An Art Tour at This Colonial Hotel Takes You Down The Annals of History

Ranked as one of the top hotels in India, The Imperial New Delhi, in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi, offers utmost luxury, fantastic restaurants, an unbeatable art collection and a space where history comes alive.

The most charming aspect of Delhi is the way the old exists alongside the new. The broad tree-lined avenues of Lutyen’s Delhi are interspersed with opulent gardens built by the Mughals. Swanky neighbourhoods of New Delhi still preserve various remnants of the past. Apart from the traces of the different dynasties that ruled over Delhi at one time or another, you will still find many monuments that were built during the British Rule. Whether Delhi prospered or was plundered by the various rulers is a debate-worthy topic for another time and place, for now we will stick to the premise that the city gets its inimitable charm from its various layers of history.


An Art Tour through the hotel reveals the rich collection of noteworthy
paintings and photographs portraying the rich history of Delhi.

Historical Relevance
The Imperial also enjoys its fair share of historical relevance. Lady Willingdon, the wife of the 22nd Viceroy and Governor General of India, Lord Willingdon, commissioned the construction of this hotel. Unlike many other heritage hotels, this was one hotel that was built as a hotel and at no point did it serve as a home for anyone. The hotel was designed by Blomfield to be one of the finest monuments of Lutyens’ grand vision of the Capital City’s original master plan presenting a unique blend of Victorian, Old Colonial and Art Deco styles. Located on the prestigious Queensway, now known as Janpath, it was inaugurated by Lord Willingdon in 1936, and was named and conferred the exquisite Lion Insignia by Lady Willingdon. It is also said that Pandit Nehru, Mahatama Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten met at The Imperial under congenial conditions to discuss the partition of India and creation of Pakistan.

A couple of paintings up close.

The Art Tour
Even today, the grand fa├žade, painted a pristine white against the verdant lawns, the 24 king palms that lead up to the porch, high ceilings and period furniture, and a treasure trove of original art works and lithographs evoke a sense of nostalgia for guests.  It’s no surprise then that the art tour through the hotel is one of the best selling activities.

The walk that starts right at the porch by viewing the lion insignia and goes through Lahore Lounge, dedicated to the six Anglo-Sikh wars with the portraits of the two war heroes Sardar Hari Singh and Shyam Singh along with the medals won in these wars, transports you to a time warp. Then there’s 1911, the popular all day dining, but did you know about the relevance of this year? This was the year when Delhi was declared the capital of India, and also the year of coronation of the King and Queen of India. The corridors leading up to the restaurant are laden with beautiful paintings of the coronation, giving a glimpse into the kind of preparations that went into the event and so on. There is even a watercolour of the coronation ceremony of Queen Victoria that was supposed to happen at the erstwhile Calcutta but was cancelled at the last minute. This is also where one can see pictures of the Narendra Mandal, or the Chamber of Princes, a gathering headed by the Viceroy General of India, where all the Indian royalty would meet. Seeing the original pictures of India Gate and Rajpath is literally like taking a virtual history lesson. Besides the paintings on the walls, some select pieces of furniture are also noteworthy. Almost all the tables at 1911 are made of wood, except for one marble-topped table, which is even slightly longer than the other tables at the restaurant. This was Gandhiji’s preferred table! And people in the know (very few, we assure you) especially reserve a seat at this very table.

“The Imperial, proudly displays a priceless art collection of ‘British Art on India’. The collection includes the works of great artists who worked in India in the late 17th and early 18th century and produced etchings, wood engravings, lithographs, aquatints and mezzotints based on sketches of landscapes, architecture, topography and life and times of India,” shares Vijay Wanchoo- Sr. EVP & GM, The Imperial New Delhi. He adds that the hotel has three main art galleries and a collection of life size oil paintings of the Princely Rulers of India. The entire northern wing of the ground floor main Art Gallery adorns the established works of the Uncle and Nephew duo - Thomas (1749 – 1840) and William Daniell (1769-1837), including the famous ‘Oriental Scenery,’ published in 1808. The art on the first floor is dedicated to the ‘Views in Lucknow’ based on the siege and mutiny in Lucknow by Assistant Adjutant – General David Scott Dodgson. The first floor of the southern wing houses James Fergusson’s (1808-86) works titled ‘Rock cut Temples of India’ (1845). The Royal Ballroom, that exudes the exuberance and grandeur of the first ball inaugurated by Lord Willingdon, boasts of the 11 ft. by 22 ft. oil painting by Bourne and Shepard, titled The Durbar of the Nawab of Maler Kotla, and vividly depicts the generous luxury of the early 1900s.

The restaurants are not only aesthetically designed, but also contain many
original works of art worth appreciating. 

Another point worth mentioning is that The Imperial has the largest collection on display of land war gallantry awards in India and neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Bhutan and China apart from a sizeable record of orders and decorations bestowed by the King, the Emperor of India as an honor to the local Maharajas and ruling Princes of different states of India. You will find most of these at the blue room called Lutyens and Baker Room at the 1911 Bar. The Patiala Peg is another bar dedicated to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala. There is an interesting anecdote about how the Maharaja tricked his British opponents over a match of tent pegging, a popular cavalry sport during the early 1900s. Thinking that his team was sure to lose to the better-trained British team, he hosted a party for his rivals a night prior to the game and served them copious amounts of alcohol. Sure enough, the Patiala team won and thus was born the famous Patiala peg. As an ode to Punjabi style of hospitality, even today the last drink of the evening at this bar is served with an extra 15 ml alcohol. 

There are many more anecdotes, history trivia and beautiful art to marvel at during the tour through the hotel. In keeping with the hotel’s hospitality style, the enriching walk culminates with a lavish high tea at The Atrium.

Details: Rs 1,750 ++ without high tea; Rs 3,000++ with high tea.
Ph: +91-11 41116306 


This article was first published in a luxury lifestyle magazine in July 2019.