Domestic Vantage of Ravi Varma

This exhibit explores Ravi Varma's paintings and sketches of the common people capturing scenes of domesticity.

By The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation

Ganesh V Shivaswamy.

Washing Clothes by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

Raja Ravi Varma, born in an aristocratic family extensively painted Indian Royalty, Indian and British men of power, rich businessmen and aristocrats. However he continuously worked towards making art available to the common man. He encouraged the establishment of a picture gallery in Travancore (now Thiruvananthapuram) and supplied many paintings to the Ravi Varma Press. This exhibit explores Ravi Varma's paintings and sketches of the common man capturing scenes of domesticity.

Washing Clothes by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

By the Water Tap

Unlike aristocrats who approached an artist to commission a painting and would thereby sit for the artist or make a photograph available, conservative India posed a challenge to an artist who sought to capture a scene of ordinary life. During the latter part of the 19th Century, women were extremely restricted. If an artist was intent on capturing a scene of domesticity, the vantage point played an extremely important role as the artist. This exhibit explores various scenes and people from various vantage points within a domestic or family setting. These are some sketches by Raja Ravi Varma which painted at the Water Tap.

Washing Clothes by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

Lady Carrying a Pot by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

Village Belle by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection Photo © Christie's Images/Bridgeman Images.

At the Well by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

Inside a Brahmin Home

To be allowed a glance inside a common home would have also been a rare privilege. This sketch is a rare view of a Tamil Brahmin girl (dressed in the nine-yard saree typical of the caste) with her children and a widow (presumably her mother-in-law). The widow is attired in a saree which would be worn over the head. Widows in South India would remove all jewellery, shave their heads and cover their heads with the saree. So, while the young girl is seen with bangles, the widow has none. This sketch is captured from the vantage point within a bramhin house.

A Sketch of Women and Children by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

A Parsi Family by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

Inside the Parsi Home

Raja Ravi Varma had many patrons from the Parsi community and was invited into their homes. He availed of the opportunity to capture them in a familial setting as in this case. The Parsi family is gathered around a table over tea as an elderly gentleman reads a book while children go about playing.

A Parsi Family by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

The Toddy Tapper by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

The Railways

Raja Ravi Varma and his brother Raja Raja Varma extensively traveled across India and used the Railways and waterways of the Malabar region. The trains were invariably delayed which time was used by Raja Ravi Varma to make many sketches of ordinary life. The vantage point of the railway station or the surrounding area was the perfect spot to paint the common man while waiting for a delayed train.

Waiting by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

The Negotiation by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

The Incense Bearer by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

Along the Way

With men, it was easier to ask them to pose and so they did. With eyes of curiosity they allowed the artist to capture their likeness onto the sketch book.

The Bairagi or the Recluse by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

A Barber by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

The Gypsies of South India (Poverty) (1893) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Sree Chitra Art Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram

The Gypsies of South India

One of the ten paintings sent by Raja Ravi Varma to the World Columbian Exposition, 1893 in Chicago was this painting of a scene depicting Poverty.  A woman with ragged apparel sings to provide for her three children. The artist captures desperation of the poor with much sensitivity. What is evident is that the artist's brush treated the rich and poor alike as in this beautiful painting epitomizing the line "Walk with Kings- Nor Lose the Common Touch" from Rudiyard Kipling's poem "If."

Credits: Story

All image rights belong to the various contributors:

DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai, New York.

Private Collection Photo © Christie's Images/Bridgeman Images.

Sree Chitra Art Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram.

Text Rights: Ganesh V Shivaswamy.

All Rights Reserved by the various contributors above-mentioned.

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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