Megan Lambert explores the works of celebrated 19th-century artist António Xavier Trindade, known as “The Rembrandt of the East”. She discovers a surprising family connection between him and the owner of Ahilya by the Sea, Goa, an oasis of natural beauty and an ideal haven for artists.
Fontainhas, Goa’s Latin Quarter, strewn with colorful and crumbling Portuguese mansions, former homes and government offices. One boasts a fresh coat of cornflower blue; its neighbor, left to fend for itself, has grassy-bushes bursting out of what’s left of terracotta hung tiles. Easily explored on foot – if you amble along its uneven streets for long enough, you’ll come across The Fundação Oriente. A grand example of 19th-century Indo-Portuguese architecture, it stands proud, all white with sunny yellow borders, symmetrical Juliet balconies, and glimmering, mother-of-pearl shutters. A work of art in itself, there’s nothing to suggest what lies inside.
Nor does that guard who, apart from the fluorescent tubes he methodically switches on acknowledging our arrival, sheds no light on the contents on the gallery. Being the only visitors that day, apparently, it feels as though we’re being honored with a private viewing. Yet it houses a collection of Goa’s most celebrated artist, António Xavier Trindade. Known as “The Rembrandt of the East” among his contemporaries, his intimate oil-on-canvas masterpieces are an ode to his family and loved ones. A portrait of his wife, Florentina, bears a Mona Lisa-worthy smile, withholding an as-yet-undisclosed secret. So detailed a portrayal, you feel as though you might know her, demonstrating a warmth and good-humor that tell the observer she’d be a terrific dinner companion.
Back at the hotel, I ask my host whether he’s heard of this artist “Antonio something?”
“You know that’s the owner’s grandfather?” he laughs.
I’d no idea. And suddenly, as when you learn a new word and all at once hear it repeated everywhere, I spotted the previously innocuous copies of Antonio Xavier Trindade: An Indian Painter from Portuguese Goa and it all fell into place. Looking back, I’m not surprised that creative blood runs through these veins. Housing an impressive art collection itself, Ahilya by the Sea is a true artist’s abode. Packed to the hand-carved Balinese rafters with surrealist, watercolor, and oil paintings from Goa and around the world, it is the sort of stay that really gets your creative juices flowing. Whether it’s the proximity to nature (the hotel overlooks its neighboring Coco Beach to the west and the Mandovi River to the east), the continuous serenade of the ocean, or the languid pace of living, synonymous with Goa, one feels compelled to put down the phone and pick up a paintbrush. Or, in my case, pen.
Opening their doors to guests in 2016, this former private home has its own connection to Goa’s capital. It stands on the site of former customs houses built by the Portuguese to guard the river entrance leading to Panjim. They even have an artist residency program, where would-be artists, writers, and the like can stay in the most charming of treehouses atop a centuries-old banyan tree. If heights aren’t your thing, there are nine other rooms spread across three villas. Visible from all, the sight of fisherman, hauling in their morning catch on the neighboring Coco Beach, is a painter’s delight.