Monday, 29 May 2017

Raja Ravi Varma : A prince among painters and a painter among princes

Raja Ravi Varma is considered as one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian art. He achieved recognition for his depiction of scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art. He was probably the first Indian artist to master perspective and the use of the oil medium; the first to use human models to illustrate hindu gods and goddesses; the first Indian artist to become famous, before him painters and craftsmen were largely unidentified; and the first to make his work available not just to rich elite but also to common people by way of his oleographs. 

                        ( a )                                                      ( b )   

a) Portrait of a lady from Maharashtra, holding a plate full of fruits.
b) Portrait of Mahaprabha Thampuratti of Mavelikkara, Raja Ravi Varma's daughter holding her son Marthanda Varma.

                    ( c )                                                                 ( d )   
c) Hansa Damayanthi.
d) Indian women dressed in regional attire playing a variety of musical instruments popular in different parts of the country.

Personal Life
Raja Ravi Varma was born on 29 April 1848 into aristocratic family as 'Maha Raja Rajyashry Ravi Varma' at Kilimanoor Palace in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore (present-day Kerala). He was the son of Ezhumavil Neelakanthan Bhattatiripad and Umayamba Thampurratti. His mother was a poet and writer of some talent, and her work Parvati Swayamvaram was published by Varma after her death. Ravi Varma's father was a scholar of Sanskrit and Ayurveda. Ravi Varma had three siblings, a sister named Mangala Bayi Thampuratti (she was also a painter) and two brothers named Goda Varma (born 1854) and Raja Varma (born 1860). Raja Varma was also a painter and worked closely with Ravi Varma all his life.

In 1866, at the age of 18, Ravi Varma was married to 12-year-old Bhageerthi Bayi (known formally as Pooruruttati Nal Bhageerathi Bayi Thampuratty) of the royal house of Mavelikkara. They had two sons and three daughters. Their eldest son, Kerala Varma, born in 1876 went missing in 1912 and was never heard of again. Their second son was Rama Varma (b.1879), an artist who studied at the JJ School of Arts, Mumbai, married to Srimathi Gowri Kunjamma, sister of Dewan PGN Unnithan. Raja Ravi Varma's elder daughter, Ayilyam Nal Mahaprabha Thampuran, appears in two of his prominent paintings and was mother of Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore. He had another daughter, Thiruvadira Nal Kochukunji Thampuran, grandmother of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma Maharajah. His third daughter, born in 1882, was Ayilyam Nal Cheria Kochamma Thampuran.

His descendants comprise the Mavelikara Royal house while two of his granddaughters, including the said Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, were adopted to the Travancore Royal Family, the cousin family of the Mavelikara House, to which lineage the late Travancore Maharajah Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma belongs. Well known among his descendants are writer Shreekumar Varma (Prince Punardam Thirunal), artists Rukmini Varma (Princess Bharani Thirunal) and Jay Varma, classical musician Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma and others.

Art Career
At the age of seven years Ravi Varma started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. His uncle Raja Raja Varma noticed the talent of the child and gave preliminary lessons on painting. At the age of 14, Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja took him to Travancore Palace and he was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu. After 3 years Theodor Jenson, a Dutch portraitist taught him oil painting.

Most of his oil paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. It was in 1870 he travelled to Mookambi and when coming back did first painting for money, 'Kizhakke Palatt Krishna Menon and Family'. In 1873 he won the First Prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition. Raja Ravi Varma received widespread acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna in 1873.

He went to Baroda on an invitation Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and T Madhavrao. Madhavrao first served as the diwan (prime minister) of Travancore and later as the diwan of Baroda. He recommended Raja Ravi Varma to Sayajirao. Even before Varma visited Baroda, Madhavrao had acquired his paintings like the ‘Sita’s Ordeal’ and the ‘The Young Nair Girl’ for the Gaekwads.

Varma first came to the city in 1881. Sayajirao got a studio built for him at the Motibaug Palace ground. The young maharaja was so impressed with Varma’s works that in 1888, he invited Varma to Ooty where he commissioned 14 mythological paintings. These were: Nala-Damayanti, Radha and Madhava, Bharata and the Lion Cub, Arjuna and Subhadra, Vishvamitra and Menaka, Shantanu and Ganga, Kamsa Maya, Disrobing of Draupadi, Harischandra and Taramati, Keechak and Sairandhri (The Beauty and the Beast), Sita Swayamvaram, Birth of Krishna, Devaki and Krishna and Shantanu and Satyavati. Varma chose the sari as the drapery of his epic heroines.

The paintings were displayed so that the public could view them. Describing this exhibition, an annonymous biographer (believed to be Varma’s younger brother, C Raja Raja Varma of Ravi Varma) wrote in book 'Ravi Varma : The Indian Artist', 1903, 10-11:
"They were publicly exposed for some days and immense crowds of people assembled from all parts of the Bombay Presidency to see the paintings. They produced quite a sensation for a period, for it was first time that subjects from the great Indian epics had been depicted on canvas so truthfully and touchingly. Hundreds and thousands of their photographs were sold all over India."

Ravi Varma's success was due to fact that he had succeeded in giving the "right" visual form to these classical literary subjects. In 1888 and again 1894, Varma toured India, filling up sketchbooks in an effort to study the basic unity that he was convinced underpinned the diversity of India. He was particularly concerned to identify an female type from among this variety in terms of costume, style, and physiognomy. The result of the tours was that Varma chose the sari as the best dress in which to drape his heroines and rejected the earlier Indian traditions of miniature paintings.

His wife Poororuttathi Thirunal Mahaprabha Thampuratty expired in 1891. Second Baroda journey was in the same year. The famous Chicago exhibition was in 1893. Ravi Varma, together with his brother C. Raja Raja Varma, founded the Ravi Varma Lithographic Press in 1894 at Ghatkopar, Mumbai in 1894. In 1899 shifted oleograph press to Lonavala near Pune, Maharashtra. Father Ezhumavil Neelakandan Bhattathiripad expired same year. In 1901 he sold press to Schleizer. Same year travelled to Udaipur. In 1903 there was an exhibition in Madras.

In 1904 Viceroy Lord Curzon, on behalf of the King Emperor bestowed upon Raja Ravi Varma the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal. At this time his name was mentioned as "Raja Ravi Varma" for the first time, raising objections from Maharajah Moolam Thirunal of Travancore. Ravi Varma however defended the title stating that his ancestors had been the Rajahs of Beypore in Malabar and besides, as per the Marumakkathayam tradition, the name of the maternal uncle (Raja Raja Varma) was prefixed to the name. Thereafter he was always referred to as Raja Ravi Varma.Beloved brother C. Raja Raja Varma expired in 1905 and Ravi Varma expired on October 2, 1906 at the age of 58.

In 1993, art critic Rupika Chawla and artist A Ramachandran jointly curated a large exhibition of Raja Ravi Varma's works at the National Museum, New Delhi. Considering his vast contribution to Indian art, the Government of Kerala has instituted an award called 'Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram', which is awarded every year to people who show excellence in the field of art and culture. A college dedicated to fine arts was also constituted in his honour at Mavelikara, Kerala. He was known as the “prince among painters.”

Prominent works of Raja Ravi Varma
Many of his oil paintings are classic and his unique Indian style has later influenced artists and designers worldwide. He is famous for his depiction of scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. He is best known for the depiction of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. He travelled throughout India in search of subjects. He often modeled Hindu Goddesses on South Indian women, whom he considered beautiful. Ravi Varma is particularly noted for his paintings depicting episodes from the story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala, and Nala and Damayanti, from the Mahabharata. Ravi Varma's representation of mythological characters has become a part of the Indian imagination of the epics. He is often criticized for being too showy and sentimental in his style. However his work remains very popular in India.

The following is a list of the prominent works of Ravi Varma :
  • Village Belle
  • Lady Lost in Thought
  • Damayanti Talking to a Swan
  • The Orchestra
  • Arjuna and Subhadra
  • Lady with lamp
  • The broken
  • Swarbat Player
  • Shakuntala
  • Lord Krishna as Ambassador
  • Jatayu, a bird devotee of Lord Rama is mauled by Ravana
  • Victory of Indrajit
  • A Family of Beggars
  • A Lady Playing Swarbat
  • Lady Giving Alms at the Temple
  • Lord Rama Conquers Varuna
  • Nair Woman
  • Romancing Couple
  • Draupadi Dreading to Meet Kichaka
  • Shantanu and Matsyagandha
  • Shakuntala Composing a Love Letter to King Dushyanta
  • Girl in Sage Kanwa's Hermitage (Rishi-Kanya)
  • Bharani Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore
  • Sri Shanmukha Subramania Swami
  • Woman holding a fan
  • 3D painting of The Mysore king in a horse

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1 comment:

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