Ravi Varma: The Painter Prince

By Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

During the last quarter of the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th century, Ravi Varma was the most famous artist of India. He was a portrait-maker to the Indian and Anglo-Indian aristocracy and a visualiser of national mythological scenes, which he transferred to large-size, gilt-framed canvases.

Yashoda Pointing Out To Balakrishna His Cows (1870) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Yashoda Pointing Out To Balakrishna His Cows

Ravi Varma painted different versions of the Yashoda Krishna series and this work is as endearing and beautiful as any.

The mother and child theme is perennial to many cultures and Ravi Varma was a master at this portrayal. The exquisite jewellery, the detailing on their visage is brilliant.

The technique to paint the jewellery on Yashoda and Krishna, the lustre of the pearls on the neck and those which adorn baby Krishna's head are stunning.

The redness of the palm on the baby is similar to the other versions of the same series that Ravi Varma painted. The detailing of the bracelets on Yashoda and Krishna's hands are done to perfection.

The small trumpet in baby Krishna's hand is depicted with attention to detail and that single element by itself lifts the work to a higher level.

The anklets on baby Krishna's feet even as he delicately balances it on a ledge captures the scene where the mother is pointing out at some cattle nearby.

The fence, the cattle grazing on the periphery which forms the theme of the painting have been given the subtle touch.

The Coquette (1893) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

The Coquette

A beautiful portrait of woman holding a fruit. Ravi Varma painted two versions of this work.

The stunning work on the necklace, the luminosity of the pearls, the nose ring as well as the big jhumkas are classic Ravi Varma.

The velvety look of the blouse is so realistic as is the shine of the stones in the bracelet.

The zari work on the saree reveals the master's ability to focus on the smallest 'element' and yet make it real and arresting.

The single fruit in the subject's hand has several connotations: The woman is longing to be a mother, or is in a state of expectancy, or is indicating her desire to attain that state.

Reclining Nair Lady (1897) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Reclining Nair Lady

A portrait of a Nair lady from a noble lineage being attended to, by her servitor.

The alluring look on the woman's face, the beautifully arranged jasmine and roses on her hair, the big ear-rings and the red bindi on her forehead are a Ravi Varma trademark.

The intricate work on the kaasumalai, the pendant with rubies, emeralds and pearls is stunning.

The velvet cushions, the tassels, a book which is casually open have been depicted in fine detail.

The gold borders on the mundu is done to absolute perfection and Ravi Varma gives it a sublime touch with his depiction of the floor tiles.

The woman attending on the noble lady is shown in darker tones, yet distinct in her own way. The chain, the ear ring are muted, yet enhances the feel of the canvas.

The hand-held fan is portrayed prominently as the attender keeps the lady comfortable even as she reads a book while reclining.

Hanuman's Discourse (1870) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Hanuman's Discourse

A rare portrait of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana listening to Hanuman reading from the scriptures.

One of the few paintings by Ravi Varma where Lord Rama sports a moustache. This painting, though untitled, is believed to have been painted circa 1870.

The detailing on the crown which adorn Lord Rama and Lakhsmana is exquisite. Undoubtedly, the crown on Rama's head is more elaborate befitting his status.

Typical to his style, the artist documents elaborate jewellery on the three central figures of the painting. Lord Rama is also wearing a bejewelled bodice-like upper garment.

Bedecking his subjects, especially women in fine jewellery is a Ravi Varma trait but in a departure from the norm, he has focused on the male subjects here.

The velvet detailing, the depiction of a lion on the arm rest on the throne where Lord Rama is seated lifts the painting to a greater level.

Sita's slightly titled head is in perfect sync with the title of the painting as she listens to Hanuman.

Depicting Hanuman in a slightly wizened manner, Ravi Varma contrasts it with the younger looks of Lord Ram and Sita.

Bharani Thirunal Mahaprabha Amma Thampuran (1880) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Bharani Tirunal Mahaprabha Amma Tampuran

Known in the family as Karutha Amooma ("the dark-complexioned grandmother"), Mahaprabha is remembered as a woman of immense personality and power, a royal descendant of kings who once ruled in Malabar.

Also known as Karutha Amooma (dark grandmother), she was married to a Koil Thampuran of the Kilimanoor family. A powerful woman, she was Ravi Varma's mother-in-law.

The red shawl stands out in stark contrast to the pristine white mundu while the marble bench on which she is seated is stunningly realistic.

The artist keeps the jewellery to a minimum, which is a rarity in his paintings. However, the necklace and pendants are well defined.

Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran (1870) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran

He was also known as the Kerala Kalidasa for his love of poetry.

One of Ravi Varma's earliest mentors, Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran or KVVKT as he was known, was admired for his good looks.

The detailing on the upper garment is resplendent and befitting his royal status.

The royal insignia has been depicted in fine detail.

Full Length Portrait of Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran (1870) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran

A full length portrait of KVVKT.

Well read and proficient in literature and poetry, Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran was widely respected.

Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran, was the one who presented his brother-in-law Raja Ravi Varma his first box of foreign paints (Windsor and Newton Oil colours).

Ravi Varma painted many portraits of his mentor, yet, each was stunningly different. In 1895, Queen Victoria awarded him with “Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India” (CSI).

As a tribute to his literary genius, Ravi Varma portrayed him with several books in the background.

Owing to the jealousies of people in high positions, Kerala Varma was falsely accused of conspiring against the crown and was incarcerated in his home town of Harippad, virtually under house arrest.

Harippad, a small town, became even more famous as Kerala Varma composed the Mayurasandesam, a magnificent work conveying his angst and distress at being separated from his wife, the Senior Rani.

The marble tiling on the floor is very realistic while the detailing on the table cover reveals the skill of the artist.

Matriarch of Harippad (1885) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Matriarch of Harippad

A powerful and intimidating lady, who ruled the family with an iron fist.

It is said that everyone was in awe of her, that she was feared and respected. Her opinions were never refuted as no-one dared to contradict her views.

The jewellery is kept to a bare minimum, instead what is arresting is the pink shawl draped aristocratically on her shoulders and with fine detailing.

Bombay Singer (Bombay Songstress) (1893) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

The Bombay Songstress

A stunning depiction of a singer from Bombay, this painting, though documented extensively in books and manuals, was only recently discovered.

Considered one of Ravi Varma's most stunning works, it is believed the subject was singer Anjanibai Malpekar, painted by the artist when she was just 16 years old.

This work was recently discovered and was in poor condition. It was subjected to extensive restoration and brought back to its original brilliance.

The restoration process was long-drawn as can be expected of a work of this magnitude. Layer after layer was carefully reconstructed to bring it to its original form.

The artist's signature and the year in which he completed the painting.

Lady with Violin (1880) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Lady With the Violin

The musical instrument in her hand, her jewellery and attire suggest a lady of noble heritage.

Credits: Story

All paintings shown in this exhibit are from Private Collections and images of the works are on loan to Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

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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