Raja Ravi Varma



India witnessed the rise of Indian modern painting with the emergence of Raja Ravi Varma in the Indian art horizon. He was born in a small fiefdom in the princely state of Travancore called Kilimanoor in the year 1848. He was born in an aristocratic family and received his first painting lessons from his uncle Raja Raja Varma. Everyone could notice the budding talent of Ravi from the early childhood. Even the local ruler Ayilyam Thirunal, having apprised by Raja Varma , took personal interest in the grooming of his talent and took appropriate steps to get him to the palace of Thiruvanantapuram.

Here in the palace he was exposed to some Italian Painters and useful literature, which could help in grasping the nuances of painting as a whole and oil painting in particular. In this sequence, he went through a book, “Hindu Pantheon” by Edward Moor F.R.S., which entailed the progress of religious pictures that correspond with Indian temple idols. He was also able to study the paintings available in the royal collection and could observe the visiting European artists at work. European art books and artists provided him with an insight of the anatomy of the human body amongst other several things.

Ravi varma learnt the basic tenets under the royal patronage for nine years. To learn more of Oil paintings he had to struggle as many Indian and European connoisseurs declined to help him on seeing a potential rival in him. On Painting the oil painting of Thirunal and his wife, with deft and meticulous expertise, the ruler presented him the highest honor “Veerasringhala” to Ravi Varma.

In year 1873, Ravi submitted his two paintings the Fine Arts Exhibition held in Madras. One of these paintings titling “Nair Lady Adorning Her Hair” won the Governor's Gold Medal. From this achievement his success and career was assured and in the following year too, Raja Ravi Varma won the Governor's Gold Medal.

Raja Ravi Varma became famous world wide when his painting won first prize in “Vienna Art Exhibition” in year 1873. After winning this prestigious award , he traveled throughout India in search of subjects. He often rechristened Hindu Goddesses on South Indian women, whom he considered beautiful. Raja Ravi Varma is mainly noted for his paintings depicting episodes from the story of Dushyant and Shakuntala, and Nala and Damayanti,. His representations of the characters from the Mahabharata and other mythologies have become a part of the Indian imagination of the epics. Though he has been criticized for being too showy and sentimental in his style, he remains immensely popular in India. He died in the year 1906.

Some of the most famous paintings are as follows:

  • Village Belle
  • Lady Lost in Thought
  • Damayanti Talking to a Swan
  • The Orchestra
  • Arjuna and Subhadra
  • Lady with Fruit
  • The Heartbroken
  • Swarbat Player
  • Shakuntala
  • Lord Krishna as Ambassador
  • Jatayu, a bird devotee of Lord Rama is mauled by Rawana
  • Victory of Meghanada
  • 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)

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