Raja Ravi Varma – Greatest painter in the history of Indian art.

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Raja Ravi Verma
Raja Ravi Verma

Born : 29 April 1848 Kilimanoor, Travancore (presently in southern Kerala & some parts of Tamil Nadu)
Died : 5 October 1906 Attingal, Travancore, aged 58.
Cause of death: Diabetes
Parents : Umamba Thampuratti (poet and writer) and Ezhumavail Neelakandan Bhattathiripad (Scholar)
Spouse : Pururuttathi Nal Rani Bhageerathi Amma Thampuran (Kochu Pangi Amma) of Mavelikara Royal House.
Childerens : Goda Varma, Raja Varma and Mangala Bayi.

Raja Ravi Varma is one of the greatest painter of history of indian art. His imagination and paintings had a major and prominent impact on Indian culture and artistic nature of Indian artists. let’s move ahead and have a look at his impact on indian society and culture in detail.


Childhood (growing up with art)

At the young age of seven, he started showing signs of taking the artistic route. Whatever he came across in his day to day living, such as still life, pictures of animals and birds, everyday acts and scenes of nature, later adorned the walls of his home and temple using chalks, reflecting his creativity and artistic sense.

It was his uncle, Raja Raja Varma, a Tanjore (now Thanjavur) artist, who realized his true potential and trained him with classical art forms.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.

Ravi Varma was relative of king Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma, who was the ruler of the princely state of Travancore in India from 1860 to 1880. King was highly impressed by the art of young Ravi Varma and declared to provide him expenses for further art education.

He received lessons first, from the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu and then, from Theodor Jenson, a British painter.


Education and Career

At the age of 14, he moved to Thiruvananthapuram, where he received training in water painting by the palace painter, Rama Swamy Naidu.

Three years later, Varma began to study oil painting with Theodore Jensen, a Danish-born British artist.


Use of art forms

In beginning of his career instead of using the conventional paints, he opted for indigenous paints made from leaves, flowers, tree bark and soil. It was only after seeing an advertisement in a newspaper that he brought his first set of oil paints from Madras.

He loved painting scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

From portraits to paintings and depiction of elaborate scenes from Hindu mythology, his sense of proportion, perspective, rendering of skin tones and the elaborate folds and texture of clothing, Ravi Varma was a cut above other artists.

He traveled throughout India in search of subjects. He often modeled Hindu Goddesses on South Indian women, whom he considered beautiful. He had the vision and talent to render on canvas, realistic, human-like images of the deities.

His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art.



Printing Press and Entrepreneurship (trading of his artworks)

In 1894 he set up a lithographic press in Ghatkopar, Mumbai in order to mass-produce copies of his paintings as oleographs, enabling ordinary people to afford them. The press was managed by Varma’s brother, Raja Varma.

That innovation resulted in the tremendous popularity of his images, which became an integral part of popular Indian culture thereafter.

In 1901 the press was sold to his printing technician from Germany, Mr. Schleicher and later closed down after it was gutted in an accidental fire. This caused a heavy damage and loss to Ravi Varma’s property.

 In 1894 he mass produced his oleographs at Lonavala. Varma’s contribution to iconography and lithographs in Indian painting is significant.

In 1899 press was later shifted it to Malavli near Lonavala, Maharashtra .

The pictures that came out of the lithographic press reached as far as South Asia, Europe, Africa, and other places.


Awards and Achievements

In 1873, first prize in the Vienna Art Exhibition
It brought huge popularity to ravi varma as gained exposure to the west .

In 1904, on behalf of the King Emperor, Viceroy Lord Curzon awarded him with the Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal.The first Indian to be awarded the highest civilian award ‘Kaisar-E-Hind’ by the colonial government.

In 1893, Varma’s paintings were also sent to the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago and he was awarded 2 gold medals.

In 1915, Raja Ravi Varma College of Fine Arts is located in Mavelikkara, Kerala, India. The college was established by Rama Varma son of Raja Ravi Varma .

Government of kerala instituted an award known as raja ravi varma puraskaram which is awarded for excellence and brilliant contribution to the field of art and culture every year.

The only man to have a special post office to handle his mails. He was so popular that he would get fan mails by the cartloads leading the British government to open a special post office just to handle his mail.




His contribution to society

  • The father of calendar pop art.
  • The first man who made it possible for untouchables to pray in front of images of Gods. Prior to his time, they were not allowed into temples.
  • Raja Ravi Verma is grandfather of Indian cinema. Dadasaheb Phalke is considered the father of Indian cinema. Dadasaheb Phalke started his career as an apprentice with Raja Ravi Varma and thus how his paintings had an influence on his early Indian films.
  • He was the first artist to draw indian deities into canvas. The dressing he imagined is still a base for television shows depicting Indian gods and goddess.

Famous Artworks of Raja Ravi Verma


recommended readings-

Paintings in each museum collection.


 

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