Raja Ravi Varma
- October 2
) was an Indian painter
who achieved recognition for his depiction of scenes from the epics
of the Mahabharata
. His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art
Raja Ravi Varma is most remembered for his paintings of beautiful sari clad women, who were portrayed as very shapely and graceful. His exposure in the west came when he won the first prize in Vienna Art Exhibition in 1873. After a successful career as a painter, Raja Ravi Varma died in 1906 at the age of 58. He is generally considered as one among the greatest painters in the history of Indian art.
Raja Ravi Varma came to widespread acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna
in 1873 . 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 Nala
, 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 lemon
- The Heartbroken
- Swarbat Player
- Lord Krishna as Ambassador
- Jatayu, a bird devotee of Lord Rama is mauled by Rawana
- 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)
Raja Ravi Varma's philosophical outlook
is not known or documented, especially his understanding of Western Art
forms, though it should be acknowledged that he received formal and systematic training. Those who seek to critically examine his contribution are severely impaired in their project by the absence of any literature written by him. (one would require an interpretation of the diary maintained by his younger Brother, C. Raja Raja Varma
, himself an accomplished painter, who in later years assisted him in his paintings and was his personal secretary.
Criticism of Raja Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma is often criticized for the fact that his paintings overshadowed traditional Indian art forms because of their widespread reproduction as oleographs
, flooding Indian culture with his version of Indian myths, portrayed with a rather static realism. According to Dasgupta, by dispensing with stylisation in favor of stiff academicism, Ravi Varma can be considered as having in one stroke undermined traditional Indian art, which was both dynamic and rich in form and content. One can find an illustration of this argument in the figures of Durga in West Bengal or in the folk form of Madhubani Paintings. In comparison, Ravi Varma's approach clearly lacks this dynamism of expression. Moreover, his approach of frontality has severe limitations in terms of space and movement. By rejecting the traditional models of representation (for example, the Chitrasutra
, the treatise on art outlined in Vishnudharmottara Purana
), he has reduced mythic heroes to the level of ordinary humans, a form that has been copied in many depictions of mythic history in other media such as cinema and television. Dadasaheb Phalke
, considered the father of Indian cinema, is thought to have been influenced by Ravi Varma's static realism.
In 1993, art critic/conservator Rupika Chawla and artist A Ramachandran jointly curated a large exhibition of 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. Awardees include:
- K.G. Subramanian (2001)
- M.V. Devan (2002)
- A Ramachandran (2003)
- Vasudevan Namboodiri (2004).
- Kanai Kunhiraman (2005)
- V.S. Valliathan
- M.F. Hussain
A college dedicated to fine arts was also constituted in his honour at Mavelikara, Kerala. The renewed interest in Ravi Varma has spilled into the area of popular culture as films and music videos have started using his images.
Raja Ravi Varma was married to Rani Bhageerathi Bayi (Kochu Pangi Amma) of the Mavelikara Royal Family and they had three sons and two daughters. Their eldest son, Prince Kerala Varma, born in 1876 went missing in 1912 and was never heard from again. Their second son was Prince 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
. Their next son was Prince Raja Raja Varma. Raja Ravi Varma's elder daughter, Princess Mahaprabha, appears in two of his prominent paintings and was mother of Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi
. He had one more daughter, Princess Uma Bayi, grandmother of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma
Maharajah. His descendants comprise the Mavelikara
Royal family 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 present Travancore Maharajah belongs.
Books on Raja Ravi Varma
- Raja Ravi Varma - The Most Celebrated Painter of India: 1848-1906, Parsram Mangharam, Bangalore, 2007
- Raja Ravi Varma - The Painter Prince: 1848-1906, Parsram Mangharam, Bangalore, 2003
- Raja Ravi Varma and the Printed Gods of India, Erwin Neumayer & Christine Schelberger, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2003
- Raja Ravi Varma : The Most Celebrated Painter of India : 1848 - 1906, Classic Collection, Vol I & II. Bangalore, Parsram Mangharam, 2005
- Raja Ravi Varma : Portrait of an Artist , The Diary of C. Raja Raja Varma/edited by Erwin Neumayer and Christine Schelberger. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2005
- Divine Lithography, Enrico Castelli and Giovanni Aprile, New Delhi, Il Tamburo Parlante Documentation Centre and Ethnographic Museum, 2005
- Photos of the Gods : The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India by Christopher Pinney. London, Reaktion Book, 2004
- Raja Ravi Varmayum chitrkalayum, Kilimanoor Chandran, Department of Culturural Publications, Kerala Government,1999.
- Chithramezhuthu Koyithampuran ,P.N Narayana Pillai.
- Raja Ravi Varma, N. Balakrishnan Nair.
Notes and references