Prince among painters
From a small village to a world-renowned figure…the journey of Raja Ravi Varma.
How many of you love reading Amar Chitra Katha comics? Do you know that the pictures of gods, goddesses, and other characters from Indian classics in these comics are based on the work of one great Indian artist? The artist’s name is Raja Ravi Varma and his paintings have been enjoyed by both kings and ordinary people all over India.
Ravi Varma was born on April 29, 1848 in the village of Kilimanoor in Kerala. His family was related to the royal family of Travancore. Just like any other little boy, Ravi Varma drew pictures on the walls of his home. Luckily, instead of punishing him for it, his uncle spotted his talent and brought him to the royal palace at Thiruvananthapuram, where he was given art lessons.
At the palace of King Ayilyam Thirunal, Ravi Varma saw many different Indian and Western styles of art such as Tanjore paintings and fashionable Italian art. He started to paint in the European style using realism and adding depth to his paintings using perspective.
Oil paints were a new medium in India and the young artist did not have anyone to teach him how to use them properly. He taught himself by watching the Dutch painter, Theodor Janson who was visiting the court, at work. Another noted painter, Ramaswamy Naicker, in Madurai, was jealous of Ravi Varma’s talent and refused to teach him. One of Naicker’s helpers would visit Ravi Varma secretly at night to teach him the secrets of oil painting. In this way, Ravi Varma mastered his art even though he had no proper teachers.
Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings of people and gods had a life-like quality to them. They show the effect of light on skin. He paid attention to what his subjects wore, painting the folds in their clothing and putting in details of their beautiful jewellery.
His fame began to spread in India as well as in Europe. In 1873, one of Ravi Varma’s paintings won the gold medal at the Madras Painting Exhibition and later that year, it won the ‘Most Distinguished Award’ at an art competition in Vienna. He was invited to different parts of India, and everywhere he went, he painted portraits and scenes from Indian mythology. Some of his famous works include Shakuntala, Damayanti Hamsa Samvad, Jatayu Vadham, Vasantasena, Ramapanchavatan, Arjuna and Subhadra.
In 1894, Ravi Varma setup a printing press in Mumbai. The press used a printing technique called oleography (pronounced o-leo-graph-y) and produced thousands of copies of his paintings. Soon, people all over the country had bought them and many even worshipped the gods and goddesses in the paintings. Some artists did not like this mass distribution and called Ravi Varma’s paintings “calendar art”. But the artist wanted to share his art and felt that everyone could appreciate art, not just the rich.
His paintings formed the way artists and film-makers imagined gods, goddesses and characters from Indian classics would look and act. Anant Pai, the creator of Amar Chitra Katha comics asked the comic book artists to look at Ravi Varma’s paintings and draw similar pictures. At the time of his death in October, 1906, Raja Ravi Varma had many admirers from all over the country and around the world.
You can find pictures of Raja Ravi Varma’s on the internet. Be sure to take your parent’s permission before you visit the websites.
Keywords: Painter, Raja Ravi Varma