By The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Ganesh V Shivaswamy
The Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Press, established in Bombay, commenced its operations in 1894. The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation, established in the year 2019, celebrates 125 years of the print legacy of the inimitable Ravi Varma Printing Press which printed chromolithographs from paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and other artists.
The First chromolithograph from the Ravi Varma Press
Raja Ravi Varma was one of the few artists who attained professional success during his lifetime - for generally, it is opined that artists achieve great fame after their demise. It was the repeated demand for copies of his paintings which led to the suggestion by Dewan Sir Tanjavur Madhava Row that Ravi Varma send some of his paintings to Europe to have them oleographed. Sir Madhava prophesied that doing so would not only extend Varma's reputation but would also do a great service to the country. Both these prophecies would come true in ample measure. The brother of Raja Ravi Varma, Raja Raja Varma would commence the logistic process of the establishment of the Press by deputing Abdoola Hoosein who traveled to Germany and engaged the services of Fritz Schleicher to help set up and run the Press. The Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Press was set up in Girgaum, Bombay and commenced its operations. The first chromolithograph, 'Birth of Shakuntala' (also bears the spelling 'Sakoontala') was launched in July, 1894.
Breaching Religious Injunctions and Restrictions
In September, 1894, the chromolithographs of goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati were launched. The image in this frame is a later re-print of the chromolithograph first launched in 1894. The Lakshmi and Saraswati chromolithograhs were revolutionary for their time. It must be remembered that in 1894, access to religious methods and places of worship were severely restricted to certain classes of society. The process of opening temples to the masses commenced only in the 1930's and was substantially set in motion by the Temple Entry Proclamation of Travancore in 1936. The Lakshmi and Saraswati chromolithographs breached every religious injunction and restriction by making their way into every Hindu home thereby democratically offering Hindus across all classes and castes access to uniform religious imagery.
When Man Created God in His Image
The other chromolithograph launched in September, 1894 was Saraswati. Another aspect of the Lakshmi and Saraswati chromolithographs worth mentioning is that these are probably the first popular images of Hindu deities which depict them in human form. Earlier religious imagery were two dimensional and illustrative. In the Lakshmi and Saraswati images, Man created God in his image! In this way, these chromolithographs created a bridge, in a sense, between Man and the Divine. These chromolithographs and many later images derived from this mould became objects of everyday conversations in households. They were viewed everyday following a concept of 'darshan' and were conversed with in the form of 'prayer', making these chromolithographs exceedingly important and relevant religious images.
Contributing Towards Building the Ravi Varma Brand
Many artists painted for the Ravi Varma Press. The legacy of these artists who worked for the Ravi Varma Press were prolific but sadly eclipsed by the Ravi Varma brand. M. V. Dhurandhar, G. V. Venkatesh Rao, K. S. Siddalingaswamy, etc. were artists who painted pictures for the Ravi Varma Press. This is a chromolithograph derived from a painting by M. V. Dhurandhar (1867-1944) of Shiva and Parvati in procession.
Venulola (Circa 1922) by Ravi Varma Press Malavli Lonavala and G V Venkatesh RaoThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
G. V. Venkatesh Rao was yet another artist who painted pictures for the Ravi Varma Press. This is a chromolithograph printed at the Ravi Varma Press.
Sri Ram Pattabhishekam (Circa 1930) by Ravi Varma Press Malavli Lonavala and C G RamanujamThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Catering to the masses or select groups of people led to the popularity of the chromolithographs from the Ravi Varma Press and consequently its' financial success. This is an example of an image made to resemble a painting in the Tanjore style.
Tanjore paintings were expensive as they used gold and even at times, real gem-stones. This chromolithograph would have certainly found favor with many people who could not afford an original Tanjore painting.
Notice the details of the jewels in the Tanjore painting style.
In the Tanjore painting style, hierarchy of people in a picture was depicted through comparative size- the more important the person, the larger in the frame.
There are instances where an infant Krishna is depicted larger in frame than an adult.
Here, the minor persons are not only depicted in supplication but also much smaller in size.
This chromolithograph of Sri Ramapattabhishekam or the Coronation of Rama is derived from a painting by C. G. Ramanujam.
Prassana Shankar (Circa 1932) by Ravi Varma Press Malavli Lonavala and SiddalingaswamyThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
While some of the paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and the chromolithographs derived therefrom deviated from iconographic descriptions, the artist from Mysore, K. S. Siddalinga Swamy, adhered to them strictly. The chromolithographs printed from paintings by Siddalinga Swamy were popular in the Mysore region.
The paintings by Raja Ravi Varma which were originally displayed at the Durbar Hall of the Mysore Palace were later replaced with paintings by Siddalinga Swamy. Such was the influence and popularity of the artist.
This is a chromolithograph printed at the Ravi Varma Press derived from a painting by K. S. Siddalingaswamy who was also known as Shilpi Siddalingaswamy of Mysore.
Sringeri Sharada (Circa 1915) by Ravi Varma Press, Malavli GIP and C MuddayyaThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
This very popular chromolithograph of Sharada of Sringeri which was derived from a painting by C. Muddayya.
This is yet another example of the Ravi Varma Press catering to the demands of select sections of Indian society.
Exploring Other Dimensions
The output of the Ravi Varma Press was not limited to printing only 'framing pictures' but went on into printing other material also. The Press printed picture postcards, textile labels, match-box labels, books, advertisements, etc. Here is a collection of picture postcards printed at the Ravi Varma Press.
Vishwamitra Menaka Postcard Verso (1899) by Ravi Varma Press Karla LonavalaThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Verso of the Vishwamitra Menaka Picture Postcard with the following description:
Vishwamitra Menaka:- This scene shows Menaka as tempting the great sage Vishwamitra, who yields to her and gets Shakuntala by her.
Damayanti Vanavas Postcard (Post 1899) by Ravi Varma Press Karla LonavalaThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Damayanti Vanavas Postcard Verso (1899) by Ravi Varma Press Karla LonavalaThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Verso of the postcard with the description:
Damayanti Vanawasa:- Damayanti was the daughter of the king Bhimaka. She was a wife of Nala, who lost his kingdom being defeated in playing dice and went to a forest to suffer hardships. Damayanti also went with him. Afterwards the king Nala left her alone in the forest and went away. This picture represents that she is in great misery and sat thinking.
Saraswati Version 2 (Circa 1910) by Ravi Varma Press Karla Lonavala and Raja Ravi VarmaThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Prolific was the legacy of the Ravi Varma Press! Transcending geographic boundaries and breaking religious injunctions, the appeal of these images can truly be described as democratic.
The Press explored many dimensions from printing large and exclusive oleographs to tiny match labels. Expensive as also economical pictures were printed to appeal to every strata of society. chromolithographs were printed to cater to people of the entire Indian sub-continent as also specific localities and cultures.
It is therefore most appropriate to conclude this exhibit with an image of Saraswati from the Ravi Varma Press. She is the Goddess of learning, intellect and imagination.
Vast and varied was the legacy of the Ravi Varma Press, just as nothing could be more fertile or creative than a good imagination.
All images are from the Hemamalini and Ganesh Shivaswamy collection, Bengaluru.
All rights reserved: The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation, Bengaluru.