Rama Varma, Artist Thampuran

The Legacy of an Artist, Teacher and Social Activist

By Kerala Museum

Self Portrait (1934) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Fondly known as the Artist Thampuran, Raja Ravi Varma's son Rama Varma left behind an impressive legacy as an artist, teacher, and social activist. 

He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Raja Ravi Varma College of Fine Arts in Mavelikara, popularly known to people locally even today as "Painting School." He was a dedicated teacher and welcomed students from all sections of society in Kerala.

Unlike his father Raja Ravi Varma, Rama Varma studied painting at the Sir J J School of Arts in Bombay, from 1897 to 1903. He returned to his hometown Mavelikara in Kerala and set up his own studio, supporting his father until his death.

Aja Vilapam (1934) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Ajavilapam by Rama Varma

Many of his paintings are reminiscent of Raja Ravi Varma's style with the features of the face, the proportions, the gestures, the use of light, the poses of the figures and the sources of inspiration. In this painting about the legend Ajavilapam, Aja's soulmate Indumati, whom he loved and admired with all of his heart, is dead on his lap. 

Aja is seen to cry out in agony, his hands stretched to the heavens, cursing the horrible fate that he is facing.

Rama Varma captures a significant lyrical moment in this painting,  emphasizing the experience of extreme grief. The painting's background is simplified, giving more emphasis to, and highlighting, the figures.

The way Aja holds the garland through his fingers has a great degree of softness.

His eyes well up with tears, as if he’s about to gasp and cry.

Unlike Raja Ravi Varma's intricate details on the jewellery, here Rama Varma paints the jewellery in a soft and subtle manner, calling attention to the translucency of the pearls.

In the background, you can make out the trees and plants and traces of small flowers.

Portrait of Raja Ravi Varma (1948) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Portrait of Raja Ravi Varma by Rama Varma

The Portrait of Raja Ravi Varma is one of Rama Varma's masterpieces. Ravi Varma is depicted leaning on a sofa, his right hand holding a walking stick and his left hand holding a slightly folded turban.

Raja Ravi Varma was conferred the Kaisar-i-Hind medal by the British Empire and Rama Varma's detailing of the medal in the painting is intricate.

Portrait (1934) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Portrait by Rama Varma

In his other portrait paintings, Rama Varma uses light to bring out the rugged features of the sitter subtly, giving expression and texture to the painting.

Sir Winston Churchill (1934) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Sir Winston Churchill by Rama Varma

The portrait of Winston Churchill against a hazy background where the transparency of colour and addition of highlights give depth to Churchill's skin tone.

Study of a friend in Muslim dress (1934) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Study of a friend in Muslim Dress by Rama Varma

The dark or brown hazy background, along with the soft light falling on the subject's face, gives the impression of an underlying intensity.

Study of a friend (1948) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Study of a friend by Rama Varma

In this painting, the model was carefully examined and studied, giving the painting life. The effects of the changing light on the skin's hue were thoroughly noted and rendered with appropriate dark and red color combinations. Furthermore, the subject's gaze is directed towards the viewer.

The crisp creases of his shirt are a contrast to the fuzzy grey beard and face.

Rana Pratap (1934) by Rama VarmaKerala Museum

Rana Pratap by Rama Varma

This painting of Rana Pratap on his death-bed emphasizes the amount of attention given to space and light versus smaller details in the composition. This work is probably from an earlier period of Rama Varma’s career where he uses the techniques of Academic Realism that he probably picked up while studying painting at the JJ School of Art.

Outside the window, there are shrubs or grass and the sun between the purple clouds which could be a sunset or sunrise.

There is not much detailing given on the face of the figures, except maybe for Rana Pratap where the light is more focused.

The figures around Rana Pratap are mourning while one of the female figures grips Rana Pratap's wrist as she mourns.

On the floor lies the head gear, the suit, and the sword probably belonging to Rana Pratap.

Credits: Story

Exhibit curator:
Gopika Krishnan L.

Content Editors:
Arundhathy Nayar
Aditi Nayar
Jyothi Elza George

Malayalam Translator:
Geeta Nayar

Resource and Guidance:
S. Ajaykumar

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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