Context: 29th April is the birth anniversary of the famed Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) who is remembered for giving Indians their western, classical representations of Hindu gods and goddesses. 

About Raja Ravi Verma:

  • Varma was born into aristocracy at Kilimanoor in the erstwhile Travancore state of present-day Kerala, and was closely related to its royal family. 
  • Early life: 
    • At an early age, he showed a keen interest in drawing, and would draw on the walls of Kilimanoor palace, where he lived. 
    • Observing this , his uncle, Raja Raja Varma, noticed the younger Varma’s talent, and taught him initial lessons in painting.
    • At the age of 14, he was patronised by Ayilyam Thirunal, the then ruler of Travancore, and received training in watercolours from Ramaswamy Naidu, the royal painter. 
    • Later, Varma studied oil painting with the British painter Theodore Jensen. 
    • Apart from Travancore, Varma also worked for other wealthy patrons such as the Gaekwad of Baroda.
  • His Work:
    • Varma worked on both portrait and landscape paintings.
    • He is considered among the first Indian artists to use oil paints
    • Apart from painting Hindu mythological figures, he also made portraits of many Indians as well as Europeans.
    • Varma is also known for having mastered the reproduction of his work on the lithographic press– through which his paintings spread far and wide.
      • Lithography is a method of printing originally based on the immiscibility of oil and water. The printing is from a stone or a metal plate with a smooth surface.
    • Through his printing press, he humanised the depiction of Hindu pantheon that travelled beyond the surfaces of costly canvases, and into the prayer and living rooms of working-class homes.
    • He is believed to have made around 7,000 paintings before his death at the age of 58.
    • His most famous works include -
      • Damayanti Talking to a Swan, 
      • Shakuntala Looking for Dushyanta, 
      • Nair Lady Adorning Her Hair, and 
      • Shantanu and Matsyagandha
  • Recognition:
    • He continues to be regarded as the most important representative of the modern school of painting in India. 
    • His 1873 painting, Nair Lady Adorning Her Hair, won Varma prestigious awards including Governor’s Gold Medal when it was presented in the Madras Presidency, and Certificate of Merit at an exhibition in Vienna.
    • In 1904, the British colonial government awarded Varma with the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal
    • In 2013, a crater on the planet Mercury was named in his honour.   

Modern School of Painting:

  • The modern Indian art movement in Indian painting is considered to have begun in Calcutta in the late nineteenth century. 
  • The old traditions of painting had more or less died out in Bengal and new schools of art were started by the British.
  • Essential Characteristics:
    • a certain freedom from invention, 
    • the acceptance of an eclectic approach which has placed artistic expression in the international perspective as against the regional, 
    • a positive elevation of technique which has become both proliferous and supreme,
    • the emergence of the artist as a distinct individual.
  • Initially, protagonists of Indian art such as Raja Ravi Varma drew on Western traditions and techniques including oil paint and easel painting.
  • An attempt to stem this cultural morass was made by Abanindranath Tagore under whose inspired leadership came into being a new school of painting which was distinctly nostalgic and romantic to start with. 
    • It held its way for well over three decades as the Bengal School of Painting, also called the Renaissance School or the Revivalist School - it was both. 
    • Despite its country-wide influence in the early years, the importance of the School declined by the 'forties' and now it is as good as dead.
  • Contemporary Indian art has travelled a long way since the days of Ravi Verma, Abanindranath Tagore and his followers and even Amrita Sher-Gil. 
  • Broadly, the pattern followed now shows - 
    • Through various stages of elimination and simplifications, through cubism, abstraction and a variety of expressionistic trends, the artists have reached near non-figurative and totally non-figurative levels. 
    • Projection of the disturbed social unrest and instability with the predicament of man as the main theme; 
    • An interest in Indian thought and metaphysics, manifested in the so called 'tantric' paintings and in paintings with symbolic import
    • A new interest in vague surrealist approaches and in fantasy. 
    • Nobody now talks of the conflict between form and content or technique and expression. 
  • Examples of Modern Paintings 
  • Lady in The Moon Light' by Raja Ravi Varma

  • Three Women' by Amrita Shergil




Image Source: Economictimes