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India, 1935

Doris Duke’s earliest travels to the Islamic world can be traced to her 1935–36 around-the-world honeymoon tour with her husband James Cromwell. In addition to quick visits to Egypt and Jordan, the honeymoon included approximately two months in India. Highlights of their itinerary while in India included a meeting with Mohandas K. Gandhi (d. 1948), during which the Cromwells were likely exposed to his vision for resolving India’s poverty crisis through craft revitalization (Kennedy 2012), and visits to canonical Mughal monuments, including the Taj Mahal (from 1632), Agra Fort (1565–1628), and Red Fort (1639–48). Duke soon became entranced by the carved and inlaid marble surfaces and cusped arches associated with the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58) and resolved to order a bedroom and bathroom suite inspired by them. Just four weeks into the India portion of their honeymoon, the Cromwells enlisted the Delhi-based British architect Francis B. Blomfield to supervise the creation of a “Mughal Suite” for an addition being planned for Malmaison, James Cromwell’s lake-side home on the grounds of El Mirasol, the Palm Beach estate of his mother Eva Stotesbury. The suite would include marble dado panels inlaid with semi-precious stones in floral patterns for the bathroom; seven perforated marble screens (jalis) to serve as mobile doors in the bedroom, and four smaller examples with superimposed flowers for the bathroom; and additional marble and plasterwork components including architraves, arches, a bathtub, a fireplace, and flooring.

To create the marble components of the Cromwells’ suite, Blomfield subcontracted Indian artisans; specifically, the India Marble Works firm of Agra. This workshop was led by Rai Bahadur Seth Lachhman Das, who, according to recent oral history, supported over 400 artisans working in a variety of techniques (marble inlay, stone carving, glasswork, among others) from his workshop in the Rakabganj district (Kennedy 2012). In terms of design, the custom-made marblework was inspired by seventeenth-century Mughal prototypes—inlaid panels and jalis found in the Taj Mahal; the Red Fort (including the Diwan-i Khas, or Hall of Private Audience); and the Agra Fort (including the Diwan-i Am, or Hall of Public Audience)—all of which the Cromwells had recently visited (Kennedy 2012). The commission progressed at a rapid rate, and the couple spent much of their ensuing honeymoon travels corresponding with Blomfield as he supervised the project.

When the Cromwells arrived in Honolulu in August 1935 as the last stop on their honeymoon tour, the suite project took a drastic turn. Falling in love with Hawai‘i, they decided to purchase land on the southern shore of O‘ahu and install the India commission in a home that they themselves would build from the ground up. The plans for Palm Beach were readily transferable to Honolulu and approximately one year later, in August 1936, the first shipment of jalis arrived. Unfortunately, many were broken, but Shangri La’s onsite supervising architect H. Drewry Baker creatively reconstituted the damaged examples as a “Jali Pavilion” on the bedroom’s rooftop. It would take another two years, however, for the suite’s constituent parts—bedroom, dressing room, bathroom, rooftop pavilion, arcaded lanai with Hawaiian-made but Mughal-inspired baluster columns and cusped arches—to be completed. On Christmas Day of 1938, the Cromwells moved into their suite and praised it as “the loveliest room of the kind that we have ever seen.”

Doris Duke at the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque; 1647–53) in Agra, India, during her honeymoon with James Cromwell, 1935. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Doris Duke at the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque; 1647–53) in Agra, India, during her honeymoon with James Cromwell, 1935. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

The Jali Pavilion atop the Mughal Suite. The Mughal-inspired baluster columns and cusped arches are visible in the private hallway below, 1938–39. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

The Jali Pavilion atop the Mughal Suite. The Mughal-inspired baluster columns and cusped arches are visible in the private hallway below, 1938–39. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Recommended Citation expand icon

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Commissions and Recreations, 1935–1938: India, 1935,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012, www.shangrilahawaii.org.

Works Cited expand icon

Thalia Kennedy, “Doris Duke and Gandhi: Revitalizing Craft Tradition and the Mughal Suite at Shangri La,” Shangri La Working Papers in Islamic Art, no. 3 (July 2012): 1-32.

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