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The District Grand Lodge of Madras possesses various rare and valuable artifacts of historical and masonic significance. This page provides details on some of these treasures.

Click on the titles of the excerpts below to read the full articles on each treasure.

Portrait of Lord Ampthill

Lord Ampthill Ravi Varma

The portrait is about 4 feet in height and 2 1/2 feet in width and was painted by Raja Ravi Varma in the year when Lord Ampthill was the then Governor of the Madras Presidency.

This portrait can be viewed at the main dining hall of the Freemason’s Hall at Chennai.

Below is a note authored by Mr. S. Muthiah in The Hindu

That was my first visit to the Freemasons’ hall on Commander-in-Chief Road, and I found its interior rather splendid after some meticulously executed restoration. But more than the restoration — which reflected that the City in parts is at last catching on to the idea of wanting to care for its living heritage — I was happy to make two discoveries during my visit.

One was a Ravi Varma portrait adding one more to the few Ravi Varma originals in the city that I know of — and the other that the Masons have long had a connection with St. George’s School and Orphanage, the ancient organisation still having a representative on the School’s Board of Management.

There’s quite a treasure-house of antiquities in the Hall, ranging from portraits in oils and photographs of the Grand Masters who have headed the organisation in South India from the 1780s to the antique Master’s chairs, other furniture and the ornamentation in the three Temples the Hall houses, all carefully preserved.

Amongst those portraits is one of Lord Ampthill, Governor of Madras 1901-1906. Ampthill, the son of the diplomat Lord Odo Russell, was the Private Secretary of Joseph Chamberlain, a major figure in late 19th Century British politics, and father of Neville Chamberlain, a latter Prime Minister. Joseph Chamberlain of Birmingham, who was president, Board of Trade and later Colonial Secretary, was best known for his advocacy of the British Empire becoming a united trading block. Lord Ampthill acted as Viceroy in 1904 when Lord Curzon was on Home Leave. I, however, remember Ampthill for having been an enthusiastic patron of Raja Ravi Varma, that great artist who might be considered the father of Modern Indian Art. To find Ampthill painted by Ravi Varma was, therefore, a happy discovery.

It was in 1873 that Ravi Varma came to the art world’s attention when he was awarded the First Prize for his “Nair Lady at her Toilet” at the Madras Fine Arts exhibition. Prize followed prize at subsequent Madras exhibitions – and so did the patronage of the Governors of Madras. In the 1904 exhibition, by when his exhibits were not for competition, Ravi Varma exhibited a striking portrait of Lady Ampthill. The next year, he exhibited at the Madras show the portrait of Lord Ampthill in his Masonic regalia. The Governor invited him to accompany him and the Prince of Wales (later to be King George V) to Mysore and paint the highlights of a visit where royalty entertained royalty. One of the most memorable pictures that came out of that tour was the impressionistic “Mysore Khedda”.

Ravi Varma died in October 1906. By then, Lord Ampthill had returned to England but he wrote from there to Ravi Varma’s son, “A more gentle, kindly, courteous nature I have never known, and added to that there were the lofty ideas and pure motives which inspired him in the Art to which he devoted his life which so much resultant benefit to Indian life. It would be difficult to ever estimate the influence for good which your father’s paintings, widely popularised as they were, had among all kinds and conditions of your countrymen. They spread a refined taste in Art and they must have done much to influence religious thought… “