Sunday 27 April 2014


2014-17  Raja Ravi Varma - A Prince among Painters 

Raja Ravi Varma [1848-1906] - A Self Portrait
Raja Ravi Varma was born on 29th April 1848, in Kilimanoor, a small hamlet in Kerala. He belonged to a family of scholars, poets and artists. His parents were Umamba Thampuratti and Neelakandan Bhattathiripad. 

As only a small boy, he filled the walls of his home with pictures of animals, acts and scenes from his daily life, which were noted by his uncle, Raja Raja Varma as the signs of a blossoming genius. 

The uncle, himself a Tanjore artist, not only gave the first drawing lessons to Ravi Varma, but also took a keen interest in his further training and education with the help of the ruling king, Ayilyam Thirunal. 

At the age of 14, Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja took him to Travancore Palace where he was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu and later, Theodore Jenson, a British painter taught him oil painting.

Most of his oil paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. In 1873 he won the First Prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition. He became a world famous Indian painter after winning in 1873 Vienna Exhibition. Many of his oil paintings are classic and his unique Indian style has later influenced artists and designers worldwide. Here we have displayed pictures of some of the classic oil paintings and oleographs of Raja Ravi Varma.

Goddess Lakshmi
Goddess Saraswathi

An artist who is credited with bringing about a momentous turn in the art of India, Raja Ravi Varma inexorably influenced future generations of artists from different streams. He was the first artist to cast the Indian Gods and mythological characters in natural earthy surroundings using a European realism; a depiction adopted not only by the Indian “calendar-art”- spawning ubiquitous images of Gods and Goddesses, but also by literature and later by the Indian film industry- affecting their dress and form even today. 

Krishna with Yasoda
Ravi Varma’s fame as a portrait artist soared with several important portrait commissions from the Indian aristocracy and British officials between 1870 and 1878, and the sensitivity and immense competence this artist still remains unsurpassed.  His clever portrayal would add elegance to the personality of the protagonist, like unmasking the fragrance of a flower. The recognition that Ravi Varma received in major exhibitions abroad was for the portrait-based renditions, which were meticulous compositions of people, their demeanor and attires.

These works finely blended the elements of the early Tanjore custom of painting Nayikas (the feminine emotions being the central theme) and the graceful realism of European masters. In 1873 he won the First Prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition and he became a world famous Indian painter after winning in 1873 Vienna Exhibition. Though not really qualified for the title of a Raja, when an imperial citation happened to come across in the name of Raja Ravi Varma, the name stuck and stayed.

Damayanti and Swan
Besides portraits, and portrait-based compositions, Varma now embarked on honing an oeuvre for theatrical compositions based on Indian myths and legends. " Nala Damayanti", " Shantanu and Matsyagandha", " Shantanu and Ganga", "Radha and Madhava", " Kamsa Maya", "Shrikrishna and Devaki", " Arjuna and Subhadra", " Draupadi Vastraharan", " Harischandra and Taramati", "Vishwamitra and Menaka", " Seetaswayamvaram", " Young Bharat and a Lion Cub", " The Birth of Sri Krishna", ' Keechaka and Sairanthri' took new forms under his skillful brush.

With oil paints applied thickly, Ravi Varma created lustrous, impasted jewellery, brocaded textures, and subtle shades of complexions. Though several folk and traditional art forms of India since time immemorial subsisted as illustrations for religious narratives, yet, illusionist paintings as a medium for story telling was Ravi Varma’s invention. He cleverly picked the particularly touching stories and moments from the Sanskrit classics. Though often considered as lacking in overall congruity, by the sheer mastery of painting beautiful areas and expressions, his compositions would enchant the beholder no end.

Sakunta at Kava Ashrama
Ravi Varma was convinced that mass reproduction of his paintings would initiate millions of Indians to real Art, and in 1894 he set up an oleography press called the Ravi Varma Pictures Depot. For photo-litho transfers, the Pictures Depot relied on Phalke's Engraving & Printing whose proprietor, Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, became famous as dadasaheb of Indian Cinema a few years later.

In 1894 and 1888, Ravi Varma and his younger brother C.Raja Raja Varma took a tour around India, in search of images and landscapes for inspiration. On his return from the second tour, Ravi Varma painted a batch of pictures especially for reproduction at his new press, the Picture Depot. The aristocratic orientalism in his imagery was now replaced by a little more folkish, more iconic and more marketable forms, and also seen was a crises of gender identity of contemporaneous European forms.

Milk Maid
Lady with Lamp

The Calendar-Art thus brought-forth by Ravi Varma has been the origin of lakhs of god-pictures by ultra modern litho presses for decades. The rich heritage of the fragrance of his paintings continues to charm and influence the art of India. 


Ravi Varma Oil Paintings Online Gallery Cyberkerala [Click here]:

Youtube Video: Ravi Varama Mohini–Paintings [Click here]



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