Raja Ravi Varma – the celebrated painter prince

Raja Ravi Varma Koil Thampuran (29 April 1848 – 2 October 1906) was a celebrated Indian painter and artist. He is considered among the greatest painters in the history of Indian art for a number of aesthetic and broader social reasons. Firstly, his works are held to be among the best examples of the fusion of European techniques with a purely Indian sensibility. While continuing the tradition and aesthetics of Indian art, his paintings employed the latest European academic art techniques of the day. Secondly, he was notable for making affordable lithographs of his paintings available to the public, which greatly enhanced his reach and influence as a painter and public figure.

Raja Ravi Varma was born to Umamba Thampuratti and Neelakandan Bhattathiripad in the royal palace of Kilimanoor. The inborn talent of the painter started showing at a very tender age. While his family abhorred this behaviour of young Varma, it was his uncle, Raja Raja Varma, a Tanjore artist, who realized his true potential and calling. He resolved to tap the creative ingenuity of the young boy to make him a proficient artist. With the help of his uncle and the ruling king, Ayilyam Thirunal, he received training and education in arts. His uncle also gave him his first ever drawing lesson. He received tutelage, first, from the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu and then, from Theodor Jenson, a British painter.

The British administrator Edgar Thurston was significant in promoting the careers of Varma and his brother. Varma received widespread acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna in 1873. Varma’s paintings were also sent to the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 and he was awarded three gold medals. Raja Ravi Varma painted many portraits and mythological characters from Lakshmi Vilas Palace commissioned by then Maharaja of Baroda. An even today we can see those paintings from the museum of Baroda.   He travelled throughout India in search of subjects. He often modelled 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.

Varma adapted Western realism to pioneer a new movement in Indian art. In 1894 he set up a lithographic press in order to mass-produce copies of his paintings as oleographs, enabling ordinary people to afford them. That innovation resulted in the tremendous popularity of his images, which became an integral part of popular Indian culture thereafter.

Ref: Wikipedia, The Famous People, Cultural India, Britannica 

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