Raja Ravi Varma is unquestionably the most famous of all Indian painting artists. He is regarded as the Godfather of Indian painting. When it comes to depiction of beauty of Indian women on the canvas, there is no other soul that can replace Raja Ravi Varma.
Today, his paintings are nothing short of a national treasure. Even the modern day artists seem awestruck by the charisma of Ravi Varma paintings.
In this article, let us look deep into the life and paintings of the legend, Raja Ravi Varma.
Life of Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma was born in 1848 as Ravi Varma Koil Thampuran, in Travancore, Kerala. At the age of 7, Ravi Varma started to draw on the walls of the Kilimanoor Palace. His parents soon realized Ravi Varma’s talent and asked the palace painter Rama Swami Naidu to teach Ravi Varma the basics of watercolor painting. Ravi Varma also got some training in oil painting from the Dutch artist, Theodor Jenson.
He traveled to different parts of India including Mysore, Baroda, Chithrakara Veedhi in Madhura, Tamil Nadu etc to learn more about art painting. These travels made Ravi Varma a better artist.
Later in his life, Ravi Varma married Pururuttathi Nal Bhageerathi Amma Thampuran from the Royal Family of Mavelikkara. They had five children, two sons and three daughters. In 1906, Ravi Varma died at the age of 58 due to acute diabetes.
Many people wondered what made him that good a painter. For him, it was the systematic training he received that made him a complete artist. First, he got training in classic Indian styles of painting. Later, he was exposed to western style of painting, which helped him to create a unique style of his own. As a result, most of his paintings are a fusion of Indian traditional style and the western style.
Number and Types of Paintings
When it comes to painting, Ravi Varma is neither considered traditional nor a modern artist. In fact, he stands as a link or a bridge between the two styles.
As you might already know, the subjects of Ravi Varma paintings are mostly women and mythological characters. He gave faces to Hindu deities on his canvas and sold them to common people at low prices. He painted a total of 170 paintings. Among them, 140 are oil paintings, 20 are oleographs and 10 are lithographs.
Ravi Varma created mainly three types of paintings, portraits, compositions based on portraits and compositions based on mythologies. Although Ravi Varma’s mythological paintings are more famous, the portraits and compositions based on portraits make him the complete artist that he is.
Some of his famous mythological paintings include ‘Nala Damayanti’, ‘Jatayu Vadha’ etc. When it comes to portrait paintings, ‘The Maharashtrian Lady’, ‘The Milkmaid’ etc are some of the famous ones.
His paintings are radiant and natural. He had an impeccable understanding of colors and this helped Ravi Varma in creating paintings with ‘neat’ features. Ravi Varma had a great knack for depicting human expressions, which are evident in most of his paintings.
Major Exhibitions, Recognitions
Ravi Varma is said to be the artist who took Indian art painting to the world arena. One of the main reasons for this claim is his gold medal winning stint at an exhibition held at Vienna in 1873. Some of his paintings were also sent to the iconic World’s fair, held in Chicago in 1893. There too, Ravi Varma won two gold medals.
At Madras Painting Exhibition, he won gold medal for 2 straight years, 1873 and 1874. In 1904, Lord Curzon awarded Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal to Ravi Varma, honoring his achievements.
Today, most of his paintings are on display at different art galleries and museums all over the country. Some are part of private collections too. If you want to stand face to face with some of the fine works of Raja Ravi Varma, LaxmiVilasPalace, Vadodara is the place to visit.
His popularity in the country, especially in the art world, is unparalleled. In recent years, movies like ‘Rang Rasiya’ and ‘Makaramanju’ were made based on the life and art of Raja Ravi Varma. Some of the painters of that era remember him as a great artist and a great human being. Abanindranath Tagore was once quoted saying, “it is rare to come across men like him, artists like him, lovers of India like him“.
Have you seen any of his original artworks? What do you like about his paintings the most? Which is your favorite Raja Ravi Varma painting? Share your answers with us in the comments.
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