Inspiring & Influencing: In The Master's Footsteps

Raja Ravi Varma was a pioneer in the world of modern Indian art. While his portraits capture the essence of the men and women who made history in his day, his puranic paintings reflect the inspiration he drew from Indian literature, art, and tradition. 

European Landscape (1890) by Mukundan TampiOriginal Source: Private Collection

By the time he passed away in 1906, there was a veritable ‘School of Ravi Varma’ which was making its mark. His sister, Mangala Bayi, son Rama Varma and nephew KR Ravi Varma were all gifted painters.

Mukundan Tampi, Sekhara Warrier and Neelakanta Pillai, followed his style of painting with Pillai taking it up a notch as the Durbar Artist in the court of Travancore in the 20th century.

Lady Playing Swarbat (1890) by Sekhara WarrierOriginal Source: Private Collection

Lady Playing Swarbat

Painted by Sekhara Warrier, this is a portrait of a lady playing the stringed musical instrument.

Sekhara Warrier idolised Ravi Varma and his paintings are a stunning tribute to the great artist. Most of his paintings follow the path that Ravi Varma adopted focussing on the finer details.

The attention to detail given to jewellery on the subject is true to Varma's style of painting. Warrier shows his expertise by cleverly capturing the luminosity of each pearl in the lady's necklace.

Varma was brought up in an artistically rich environment and often painted women playing musical instruments. Warrier follows suit depicting his subject with the Swarbat, a stringed instrument.

Woman With Jasmine (1890) by Sekhara WarrierOriginal Source: Private Collection

Woman With Jasmine

A portrait of a lady arranging flowers in her hair, by Sekhara Warrier.

Warrier shows a Nair lady arranging jasmine flowers in her hair, much like Ravi Varma's painting titled 'Nair Lady Arranging Jasmine in her Hair'. Warrier follows the master's style in this painting.

Multiple layers of jewellery, each item beautifully represented showcasing its intricate design, is another trademark of Varma that Warrier cleverly mastered.

Some of the elements that show Warrier emulated Varma's style are: the sheerness of the woman's mundu, puja thali filled with roses and jasmine, and the lustrous gold on her garment.

Lady With Fruit Plate (1890) by Sekhara WarrierOriginal Source: Private Collection

Lady With Fruit Platter

Another work by Sekhara Warrier, this time the portrait of a noble lady with a fruit platter.

Warrier paints a woman adorned with traditional jewellery like the 'takka' in her ears, 'mukutti' or nose pin, and a 'Nagapada Tali' or cobra head necklace. These ornaments were worn by Nair women.

Warrier's clear depiction of design and style of each article of jewellery is similar to Varma's documentation of the jewellery worn by women of his time.

The play of light captured brilliantly by Warrier on the basket alongside shows the intricate weave displaying his high level of skill with the brush.

The platter of fruits is an element that is found in most of Ravi Varma's works and Sekhara Warrier keeps that tradition going.

Portrait of A Noble Lady (1890) by Sekhara WarrierOriginal Source: Private Collection

Portrait Of A Noble Lady

A portrait of lady of noble lineage in fine and resplendent jewellery, painted by Sekhara Warrier.

The subject is a lady of noble lineage and Sekhara Warrier takes the Ravi Varma route portraying her in fine garment and jewellery.

Varma gave a lot of attention to the details of each garment he painted, the weaves and patterns on women's saris and their stylishly designed blouses. Warrier does the same in this painting.

The lady's posture, her right elbow resting on the velvet lined arm of the chair, her left hand displaying a large ring, are all classic elements borrowed by Warrier from Varma's style of painting.

Ravi Varma populated his canvas by adding subtle botanical elements to the background. Here Warrier does the same by adding areca nut palms and some bushes in the background of his painting.

European Landscape (1890) by Mukundan TampiOriginal Source: Private Collection

European Landscape

A painting of a landscape somewhere in Europe.

Tampi was highly talented and in Ravi Varma's own words, "was an artist, who if he focused more on his work, would sweep the others off the face of the earth with his brush"

Tampi's portrayal of this European landscape veered from the portraits/subjects that Ravi Varma painted but his attention to detail was exemplary.

Tampi painted in the court of Maharani Sethu Lakshmibai, who asked him to recreate this scene on canvas from a postcard that she had received from Europe. The Maharani was thrilled with the result.

Much like Varma, Tampi has added dimension to the work by painting a sunken palace in the middle of the lake and another one at the far side creating the illusion of depth in the painting.

The towels casually thrown on the railings, a couple of pots for collecting water, the potted plant, are Tampi's subtle inclusion of elements, true to Ravi Varma's style.

Portrait of Ananthalakshmi (1890) by Mukundan TampiOriginal Source: Private Collection

Portrait of Ananthalakshmi

Ananthalakshmi was the wife of Mulam Tirunal, who was Ayilyam Tirunal Rama Varma's nephew. Ayilyam Tirunal was the ruler of the princely state of Travancore between 1860-1880.

She was known as Panapillai Ananthalakshmi Pillai Kochamma and married Mulam Tirunal in 1879. Mulam Tirunal succeeded Visakham Tirunal to the throne between 1885-1924.

Mukundan Tampi follows the Ravi Varma style of painting, focusing on the neatly arranged hair with flowers, the distant, yet unwavering gaze.

Portraying subjects in traditional jewellery was Ravi Varma's style, and Tampi does the same, albeit adopting more muted tones of gold in this work.

Baby And Princess (1887-01-20) by Raja Ravi Varma and C Rajaraja VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

Baby And Princess

A portrait by C. Raja Raja Varma.

C Raja Raja Varma was Ravi Varma's youngest brother, deputy and friend all rolled into one. Hugely talented himself, he chose to stay away from the limelight.

Known mostly for his landscape paintings, this is a rare work where Raja Raja Varma has a subject - a Princess and the baby.

Raja Raja Varma keeps it plain and simple; the colours are muted with only the bunch of flowers being prominent. Detailing, if any, on the garments are at a minimum.

Like the flowers, the depiction of a fruit basket is a Ravi Varma trademark which Raja Raja Varma followed.

Giving the upholstery subtle touches was true Ravi Varma style and C. Raja Raja Varma's detailing on the baby's mattress reveals his brother's influence.

The baby's rattle which is in tune with the painting does go un-noticed, but it draws from Ravi Varma's inherent ability to include subtle elements to lift the painting to a higher level.

Portrait of RRV (1910) by Rama VarmaOriginal Source: Kerala Museum, Kochi

Portrait of Raja Ravi Varma

A portrait of the artist painted by his son Rama Varma.

Rama Varma, mentored by his father Ravi Varma, walked the same path and followed his style of painting. This portrait is a tribute to the great artist by his son.

Ravi Varma was accorded the rare honour of being bestowed with the Kaisar-i-Hind medal by the British Empire. Rama Varma's detailing of the medal is intricate.

Rama Varma imbibed his father's attention to the smallest element on the canvas. The solitary ring on the left hand is a clever adornment as is the stick that Ravi Varma grasps with his right.

Ravi Varma gave a lot of importance to drapery in his portrayals. Rama Varma's portrait shows intricate detailing on the tassels.

Portrait of An Iyer Lady (1937) by Neelakanta PillaiOriginal Source: Private Collection

Portrait Of An Iyer Lady

A portrait by Neelakanta Pillai of a lady of noble lineage.

In the Sri Chithira Investiture Exhibition conducted at Trivandrum in 1931, Pillai was awarded a silver medal and certificate of merit for water colour painting.

Neelakanta Pillai was the last Durbar artist associated with erstwhile Travancore. He was known for his portraits, illustrations and grand historic paintings.

Hugely influenced by Ravi Varma's paintings, Pillai's works follow a similar path with great attention to the subject's detailing.

Focus on the heavy jewellery as well as embellishing the sari and the blouse with painstaking detailing is a style that speaks volumes of Ravi Varma's influence in Pillai's paintings.

Pillai, like Ravi Varma, focused heavily on the subject's attire. The lady is draped in a traditional nine-yard sari with the oddiyanam (gold waist band).

Credits: Story

Exhibit and references: from the collection of Arun Rajagopalan, Jay Varma and Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Click here to read more about Raja Ravi Varma.

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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