Raja Ravi Varma and the 1893 Chicago Exhibition

Raja Ravi Varma sent ten paintings to the exposition. Eight of the ten paintings are displayed in this exhibit.

By The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation

Ganesh V Shivaswamy

Photograph of Raja Ravi Varma (Circa 1904) by UnknownThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation

The World's Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. One of the Indians to participate in the "Parliament of Religions" which was an integral part of the Exposition was Swami Vivekananda. The other Indian to be represented was Raja Ravi Varma who sent ten paintings to the exposition. Eight of the ten paintings are displayed in this exhibit.

The Begum's Bath by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Osianama Research Centre, Archive, Library & Sanctuary, India.

1.
The life of an aristrocatic Muslim is depicted in the 'Begum at the Bath'.

There Comes Papa (1893) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

2.
'There comes Papa' was a mother carrying her son who gestures to the arrival of Papa. It is to be mentioned that Ravi Varma used his daughter, Mahaprabha, as a model for this painting.

Photograph of the painting 'Decking the Bride' by UnknownOriginal Source: Collection of Dr Prashant Tapadia

3.
'Decking the Bride' depicts a Parsi maiden being adorned by her mother and sister before the marriage ceremony.

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

4.
'The Gypsies of South India' depicts a nomadic tribal woman singing to the tanpura, a little girl with a wistful far away look in her eyes, and a boy preoccupied with his itches.

Photograph of the painting 'Bombay Singer' by UnknownOriginal Source: Private Collection

5.
'The Bombay Singer' is a lady once seen at marriages and nautch parties; here her sitar and pan-supari are beside her.

Expectation (1893) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

6.
'Expectation' is a young woman dressed in Hindu style waiting for her lover.

Veena Player by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

7.
'The Malabar Beauty' represented a woman with her hair adorned with jasmine enjoying the music of the Veena.

While it is uncertain if this is the very painting which traveled to Chicago, this painting conforms to the description as found in the biographies of Ravi Varma.

Photograph of the painting 'By the Well' by UnknownOriginal Source: Collection of Dr Prashant Tapadia

'At the Well'

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

Raja Ravi Varma sent a painting described by biographers in the following words:
At the well depicts a daughter-in-law of a South Indian bramhin house who is tired of her chores yet her mother in law never ceases scolding her.

A painting of this description has hitherto not been found. However, there is a sketch by Varma which meets this description.

Photograph of the painting 'By the Well' by UnknownOriginal Source: Collection of Dr Prashant Tapadia

This is a vintage photograph of a painting by Raja Ravi Varma of a Tamil brahmin lady by the well. However it does not meet the exact description as stated in the biographies.

Sisters by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

A rememberence

Two paintings which have not been traced hitherto are described as "Sisterly remembrance is a Maratta family with a Ganesha idol in the background." Raja Ravi Varma did paint many paintings of sisterly affection. This is one such painting (although not the one which was sent to Chicago). Many of his mythological paintings used the theme of a 'sakhi' or girl-friend who also played the role of a sisterly confidant.  The other missing painting is described as "The Disappointing News depicts an Iyenger lady disappointed by a troubled letter she has received." 

The Self Portrait Sketch of Raja Ravi Varma by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Sree Chitra Art Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram

All the paintings were accepted for the exhibition and Ravi Varma was awarded two medals.

The one for ‘Specific Merit' read:
“The series of well executed paintings give a good idea of the progress in instruction in Art. They are true to nature in form and color and preserve the costumes, current fashions and social features.”

The other citation read:
“This series of ten paintings in oil colors by Ravi Varma, court painter to several presidencies of India, is of much ethnological value; not only do the faces of the high caste ladies which are portrayed give the various types of localities, but the Artist’s careful attention to the details of the costume and articles used in the social and ceremonial life he has depicted render the paintings worthy of special commendation.”

Credits: Story

All image rights are reserved by the various sources:

DAG- New Delhi, Mumbai and New York

Dr Prashant Tapadia

Private Collections

Sree Chitra Art Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram

All other Rights: The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation, Bengaluru.

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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