Ravi Varma was invited to Pudukkottai , a small principality in Tamil Nadu, by Sir Seshaiah Sastri, the Diwan of the kingdom in 1879. The Rajah of Pudukkottai was not an independent ruler and like other royals, lived on the largesse of the British Government in India. The widely extravagant ways of Raja Ramachandra Tondaiman, who ruled from 1839 to 1886, drove Pudukkottai to the verge of ruin, forcing the British to bring in a minister like Sastri to get the running of the kingdom in order.
This painting of H.H. Ramachandra Tondaiman, part of the Pudukkottai Family Collection, has yellowed with age has sustained a horizontal damage on the canvas. H.H Janaki Subbamma Bayi Sahib, Rani of Pudukkottai, is seen seated for this portrait on a mother-of-pearl inlaid chair.
Ravi Varma made three paintings during his first visit to Pudukkottai - those of Raja Ramachandra Tondaiman, his beautiful second wife Janaki Subbamma Bayi Sahib and Marthanda Bhairava Tondaiman, their adopted heir. Marthanda Tondaiman was their grandson born to their daughter Brihadamba Raja Ammani Sahib, whose portrait was painted during the artist's second visit to Pudukkottai in 1886.
Raja Marthanda Tondiaman (1879-01) by Raja Ravi VarmaRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation
Marthanda Bhairava Tondaiman
Ravi Varma made the charming portrait of the prince at the same time that he made the portraits of his grandparents. However, Marthanda was destined to lead a strange life.
A few years after this portrait was painted, he was removed from the palace and the company of his grandmother and mother, by Sastri and made the responsibility of R.H. Farmer, the political agent of Pudukkottai.
Marthanda, however, ended up being more Westernised in this ways than Sastri hoped for. He played tennis, golf, practiced shooting and hunting, played chess and the banjo, violin and even billiards. Clearly he had been introduced to more of the good life than serious pursuits.
He had developed a fascination for Western ways and behaviour with severe repercussions on his life and family. In 1915, when on a visit to Australia, he met Molly Fink, an Australian, and married her, much to the displeasure of Lord Harding, the Viceroy of India.
This was, in effect, the beginning of the exile for Marthanda, the young prince in the beguiling portrait made by Raja Ravi Varma. Marthanda and Molly lived in Australia and later in Europe, on a generous allowance given to them by the British and the State of Pudukkottai. Marthanda presented Molly Fink with may of the State's jewels, including the legendary Pudukkottai emeralds. Their son, Marthanda Sydney, was not allowed to return to Pudukkottai.
The Pudukkottai lineage was carried on by Marthanda's brother who succeeded him to the throne.
Research & information: Rupika Chawla's 'Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India'
Images used with permission from: Rupika Chawla's 'Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India'
Story curation & content: Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation