Travancore Painters: Within And Beyond The Court

Finding commonality in the uncommon blend of legend and realism

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

Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was a pioneer in the world of modern Indian art. Securing the patronage of the Travancore Maharajas at a young age, he was trained by the court painters.  His paintings reflect the inspiration he drew from Indian literature, art, and tradition. 

He took his paintings to the people by mass-producing them on a printing press. As his prints reached the walls of many homes, he greatly influenced the nation's aesthetic and artistic sensibilities.

This portrait of Raja Ravi Varma was painted by Rama Varma, his son.

Reverie (1900) by Raja Ravi VarmaKerala Museum


A lady lost in thought, waiting... 

Ravi Varma is well known for his attention to fine detail, and he captures the translucency of her sari and the dull gold of kasavu perfectly in this painting.

Raja Ravi Varma painted in fine detail the jewellery typically worn by Nair women and royalty - the 'takka' earring and 'mookutti' nosepin. That said, our heroine in this painting is wearing considerably less jewellery than many in his other paintings usually are.

Can you spot the letter?
Drawing from mythology, Ravi Varma's portrayals of women generally depict classical heroines or nayikas, pining or waiting for her lover, for instance Shakuntala or Radha. 

This painting, Reverie, could be considered as a part of that repertoire.

Untitled Portrait (1990) by Mangala Bayi ThampurattiKerala Museum

Untitled Portrait, Mangala Bai Thampuratti

A painting of Nagercoil Ammaveedu Panapillai Amma by Raja Ravi Varma’s sister Mangala Bayi. Ammachi Panapillai Amma was the title held by the consort of the ruling Maharajah of Travancore.

Nagercoil Ammaveedu Panapillai AmmaKerala Museum

Nagercoil Ammaveedu Panapillai Amma

Trained in Western Realism, she painted devotional and domestic themes as adeptly as her brothers. However, society prevented women pursuing art as a profession. Her work was deemed a ‘hobby’ and mostly lies in the homes of private collectors.

Mangala Bayi probably used this photo as a reference to her painting.

Lady (1880) by Madhava WarrierKerala Museum

Lady by Madhava Warrier

Madhava Warrier was a gifted portrait painter. Contemporarily and distantly related to Sekhara Warrier and Raja Ravi Varma, his work references theirs.

Lady by Madhava Warrier

This portrait is unique as the figure flashes a rare smile.

Lady by Madhava Warrier

A beam of light from the right illuminates the drapery of her cloth, giving it a soft scumble.

Maharaja Rama Varma (1880) by Rama WarrierKerala Museum

The Portrait of Maharaja Rama Varma by Madhava Warrier

There is a sense of human warmth in Madhava Warrier's paintings. The Portrait of Maharaja Rama Varma, probably in his middle age, is painted in tones of gold and brown.

The Portrait of Maharaja Rama Varma by Madhava Warrier

Set beside is a table with books painted in shades of mottled brown.

Lady (1880) by Sekhara WarriarKerala Museum

The Lady by Sekhara Warrier

Sekhara Warrier shows off his skills, capturing in brilliant detail each piece of traditional jewellery worn by the subject in ‘The Lady’.

The Lady by Sekhara Warrier

She gently runs her fingers over her hair giving a serene touch to the work.

The Lady by Sekhara Warrier

Shifting tones and gradation add a mellow glow and grace to the picture. The smooth modelling evokes the luminosity we see here.

Alapuzha Canal (1928) by Neelakanta PillaiKerala Museum

Alappuzha Canal by Neelakanta Pillai

Neelakanta Pillai was the last Durbar artist in Travancore. He was known for his history painting and his technical use of oil paint. This is a painting from one of the scenes at Alappuzha Canal.

Alappuzha Canal by Neelakanta Pillai

At the boat dock, the flutter of colors and quick brushstrokes brings a sense of tranquility and a pleasant atmosphere to the painting.

Credits: Story

Exhibit curation:
Gopika Krishnan

Content Editors:
Arundhathy Nayar

Aditi Nayar
Jyothi Elza George

Malayalam Translator:
Geeta Nayar

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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