About 200 years ago, rich marwaris (business community) of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan found a unique way to flaunt their wealth and outdo each other. They turned what were once modest homes into havelis (mansions) which included elaborate courtyards and large gardens.

In an attempt to outdo each other, the wealthy businessmen commissioned artists to paint magnificent murals on their homes, often including images of the family, erotica, or religious scenes. The intricate artwork was a sign of great opulence, and it was backbreaking work. The result. The colourful frescoes painted on these old havelis in Rajasthan turned entire villages into an open air art gallery.

But as their business expanded, the rich traders moved to bigger cities, leaving these opulent havelis to decay. However, it were the French tourists, looking for offbeat destination discovered the famous havelis of the Shekhawati.

But, it was French artist Nadine Le Prince whose story is a beacon of shining light for the Shekhawati region.

Nadine Le Prince, the descendant of a long line of artists dating back to the sixteenth century, became aware early on that havelis must be saved and restored before they disappear or be completely looted.

She moved to Fatehpur in 1999 to buy and save one of these wonderful homes, the Deora Haveli, built in 1802 by a silk merchant.

Nadine put her heart and soul in restoring this haveli and the result a small haven of peace.

It was she who willed to restore the beauty of the fresco. It was she who not only made the haveli livable, but actually lived in it.

The Parisian is determined to do everything to protect these old stones and make them famous. She spent 60,000 euros to buy the huge building and the double to restore it. The haveli now houses a painting studio and a gallery of contemporary French-Indian art.

Nadine managed a master stroke by choosing local artists who held the ancestral secrets of technique and pigments.

As you enter, you’re welcomed by a small fountain that comes to decorate the space and the murals that have been renovated with care to find their ancestral plume. In the second courtyard, reserved for the family, there are once again very beautiful examples of the traditional paintings of the Shekhawati region with sensational representations of the outside world that were intended to entertain the women of the house. The rooms are spread around these two courtyards, sometimes richly decorated, sometimes with as much sobriety as elegance.

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Asif Ullah Khan

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