Decmber 2011 Ezine - Raja Ravi Varma - world renowned Indian Artist.
Raja Ravi Varma - world renowned Indian Artist
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When I first showed my artistic skills around the age of 10, my grandfather,who was also then my only supporter and critic, often mentioned Raja Ravi Varma, one of who's original paintings he had seen at the Mysore Museum. It was not until many years latter that I found a book with the images of his paintings..not to mention I too was totally mesmerized...The intensity of colors, the simplicity of the facial expressions, the details in the jewelry and the folds of the fabric took my breath away...Though, I have not seen his original work yet, his works have greatly inspired me and many Indian Artists...
Raja Ravi Varma
Ravi Varma was Born on 29th April 1848 in the small village of Killimanoor, 40 km to the North of Trivandrum in Kerala (Southwest India), he hailed from a princely family, very closely linked to the ruling house of the former State of Travancore. Ravi Varma grew up in a traditional environment, learning Sanskrit, listening to the music of the Bhagavatas and watching the performances put up by the Kathakali Kurpe maintained by the family. His uncle, Raja Raja Varma, was an amateur artist who painted in the Tanjore style. Ravi Varma's mother, Uma Amba Bai Tampurathi was a poetess and his father Ezhymavil Neelakantan Bhattatripad was a Sanskrit scholar.
The lady with Lamp....this was the painting my grandpa saw at the museum..
When as a boy of six he filled the walls of his home with pictures of animals and vignettes from his everyday life, his uncle, an artist, not only gave him the first drawing lessons, but also took a keen interest in his further training and education
At the age of thirteen, Ravi Varma was brought to the Palace of Trivandrum and the Maharaja Ayilyam Tirunaal was impressed by the quality of his artistic efforts and directed the young boy to stay in Trivandrum. Here he was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu. Varma’s talent was also nurtured by the personal interest of the King who exposed him to the famous paintings of Italian painters.Her Highness Janaki Subbamma Bai Sahib, Rani of Puddukottai.. painted by Raja Ravi Varma
Ravi Varma had been using the indigenous paints made from leaves, flowers, tree bark and soil which his uncle Raja Raja Varma prepared for him. His first set of oil paints was brought from Madras after noticing a newspaper advertisement. Excited and nervous,his next dilemma was learning to paint using the new medium which were elusive in those days. The only person in the state of Travancore who knew the technique of oil painting was Ramaswamy Naicker of Madura, who, recognizing a potential rival in Varma and refused to teach him the know-how. Naicker's student, Arumugham Pillai would sneak out at night to share his knowledge with Varma, against his teacher’s wishes.
He also watched a visiting Dutch portrait artist who painted the portraits of Ayilyam Thirunal and his wife. Through trial, error and hard work, Ravi Varma worked with the pliable medium, learning to blend, smooth and maneuver the flexibility that was afforded by this slow drying substance. When Varma himself painted the portraits of this royal couple, this self-taught artist’s blazing talent far outshone the Dutchman!
In the year 1870, a question bothered him. He was unsure whether he should take up art as a profession. Especially since artists were not important persons in higher societies he wondered if he had adequate skills to establish an identity as an artist. When the ruler assured him that art was a great profession he decided to take it up. To make an auspicious beginning he traveled by foot to Mookambika temple in South Canara district of Karnataka, to worship and gain the blessing of the goddess. On his way back he received the first paid commission to do a portrait of a family in Calicut.
His marriage, in 1866, to Pooroouttati Naal Tampuratty of Mavelikkara Kottaram Royal family and its social status brought him into contact with a British Resident at Trivandrum who persuaded him to participate in the Fine Art Exhibition, Madras in 1873. His work titled "A Nair Lady at the Toilet" showing a pretty woman adoring her hair with a garland of jasmine was declared the best of the show. Not only did he win the first prize Governor's Gold Medal but was also granted an interview by the Governor Lord Hobart, who spoke encouragingly of his work, and advised him to persevere and make a name for himself The Maharaja of Travancore feted him on his return to Trivandrum for bringing honour to the State. In the same year the painting was sent to an international exhibition at Vienna, where it was awarded a medal and a Certificate of Merit. More importantly, this award received appreciative notices in the English dailies published from Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, thereby spreading Ravi Varma's reputation as an artist of merit to other parts of India."A Nair Lady at the Toilet"....
In 1874, Ravi Varma once again received the first prize at the Madras Exhibition for his painting titled ''A Tamil Lady Playing the Sarabat". The Maharaja of Travancore presented, this prize-winning painting along with two other paintings, to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, during the Prince's visit to Madras in 1875. His majesty expressed his admiration of the works and said, "for an artist who had no European training, the paintings were highly creditable".A Tamil Lady Playing the Sarabat...my personal favourite...
His painting, Shakuntala's love letter to Dushyanta, created a stir at a show. The theme from 5th century Sanskrit classic composed by poet Kalidas was as innovative and appealing as its rendition. The painting was so greatly admired by the visitors to the, exhibition that it became the talk of the town. It prompted Lord Buckingham, the Governor, to announce that he would buy the painting as soon as the exhibition was over. The British Government also conferred the title of "Kaiser in Hind" upon Ravi Varma in 1904. The award as inadvertently inscribed Raja Ravi Varma instead of Ravi Varma was instrumental in the name of the artist changing to Raja Ravi Varma.
Shakuntala's love letter to Dushyanta
The small town of Kilimanoor was compelled to open a post office, as letters with requests for paintings arrived from every where.
In 1881, Sir R. Madhvarao, the British Regent of the State of Baroda decided to invite Ravi Varma to paint the ceremonial portrait of Sayajirao ll, the Gaekwad of Baroda. At Baroda, Ravi Varma was welcomed as a privileged guest and all facilities were extended to him. A special studio was built in the palace grounds. The various assignments from the Gaekwad of Baroda brought Ravi Varma much renown and fame. Princes from different native states of India sought his services and he was invited to Bhavnagar, Puddukkottai, Mysore, Bikaner, and Jaipur to revive pictorial art history in their states. Though born in Travancore, he was the first of a new generation of Indian artists to cross regional barriers in receiving commissions and executing paintings on a pan Indian level.
During his stay at Baroda, Ravi Varma provided Lakshmi Vilas Palace, with two dozen large canvasses depicting episodes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, as also a good number of family portraits. His brother, C. Raja Raja Varma, and sister Mangalabai Tampuratty assisted him. His brother also an artist usually did the background landscapes. Several paintings like Nala and Damayanti, Radha & Madhava, Arjuna and Subhadra, Bharata, Shantanu and Ganga, Shantanu and Matsyagandhi, Vishwamitra and Menaka, Krishria Drishtha, Radha waiting for Krishna in Brindavan, Shakuntala writing letter with two sakhis, Mitrayani & Priyamvada and Urvashi, sleeping beauty, Lakshmi & Saraswati are in Baroda Museum & Palace. Ravi Varma and his younger brother also took tours around India, in search of images and landscapes for inspiration, which brought a slight shift in his portraits from Royal figures to more folkish, more iconic and more marketable forms.
A Village Belle...
When Ravi Varma's paintings were exhibited in Bombay with the permission of the Gaekwad, they were publicly exposed for some days. They produced quite a sensation, since it was the first time that subjects from the Great Indian epics had been depicted on canvas so truthfully and emotively. Vast crowds of people gathered from all parts of the Bombay Presidency to see the paintings. Hundreds and thousands of their photographs were sold all over India.
The popularity of these pictures led to the establishment, by the artist, at his own expenditure, a Lithographic Press in Bombay in 1894, first of its kind in India. Bombay was chosen for its location, due to the convenience of importing machinery from Germany and distribution of the prints. He also partnered with the Bombay industrialist, Goverdhandas Khatau Makhanji.
The press brought him in close touch with the finest men of his times, including leaders who found in his contribution a mighty influence for national awakening. He was close to Dadabhai Naoroji and later to Gopala Krishna Gokhale.
Ravi Varma's success in this enterprise far exceeded his expectations. His oleographs were based on his paintings featuring mythological subjects, divine figures and women in secular settings. The Hindu divinities, devoid of multiple arms or heads, looked like real people. These portrayals became immensely popular. The depiction of Goddesses Saraswati and Laxmi, in particular, received acceptance as the new iconographical types and all previous representatives lost their appeal and before long faded from public memory. Even the Indian film industry to this day is influenced by his depiction of Hindu Gods in terms of their clothing and the facial features. His prints found an honored place in cultural homes all over India.
Even though the Lithographs brought Ravi Varma much fame, they were also the cause of his financial disaster. The plague which devastated Poona & Bombay in 1898 & the political upheaval spearheaded by Bal Gangadhar Tilak led to the closure of the press for a few months, and inevitably its finances fell into bad shape. Finally, he decided to sell it together with the reproduction rights to Sriram Pant.
Raja Ravi Varma died of diabetes on October 2, 1906 at the age of 58, in his Kilimanoor Palace home overflowing with friends, relatives, dignitaries and the media. Yet, the rich heritage of the fragrance of his paintings continues to charm and influence the art of India.
"Brown Chakra" 22.5"x22.5" watercolor and Ink
Currently Exhibiting at OXIDE Gallery
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Meet Sandhya Manne
Hey there... Glad to see you here!! I am a self-taught Indian Artist living in Garland,Texas with my husband, and two little kids. I paint everyday at my studio in the Mall. While my predominant medium is oils and Ink drawings, I also enjoy creating mixed media.. Since the start of my art career in 2009, my artworks have been part of private collections in Canada, USA and India. I am currently exhibiting through juried shows in Dallas-Fort Worth area. Learn More
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