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Modern & Contemporary Indian Art Modern & Contemporary Indian Art RAJA RAVI VARMA (1848 - 1906)
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From the private collection of a reputable Chennai based businessman and industrialist whose family have been very closely known to both Travancore and Cochin Royal House since 1920’s and probably acquired in 1950’s from the members of the Royal Family in appreciation of services rendered along with official accreditation to be the Sole Suppliers to the Princely State of Travancore, Cochin and Puddukotai along with the Presidencies of Madras & Bombay. Since then it has been in the possession of the present owners.
AN IMPORTANT PORTRAIT OF SERFOJI II, 1777-1832, MARATHA KING OF TANJORE, BY RAJA RAVI VARMA, OIL ON CANVAS,SIGNED AND DATED LOWER RIGHT, 3FT 6IN X 2FT 6IN,CONTEMPORARY (POSSIBLY ORIGINAL) GILT WOOD FRAME,DATE INDECIPHERABLE (POSSIBLY 1878)
An attractive and remarkable portrait of India’s greatest scholar-king of Tanjore, by her premier painter, Raja Ravi Varma. While European artists of the period could only transcribe the likeness of Indians,Ravi Varma could portray character as well. In this historic portrait,Serfoji sits confidently, gazing at the viewer, Ravi Varma having captured his look of sensitive intelligence, strength of character and regal bearing, his Shaivite markings on his forehead. His royal robes of red silk are richly worked with decorative flower heads and bordered with green silk. He wears the renowned Tanjore royal jewels adorned with pearls, diamonds, rubies and emeralds; his turban is similarly adorned with a jewelled sarpech and a tassel of pearls and rubies; a garland of jasmine is draped around his neck. In keeping with the early Tanjore style of painting, his robes and turban have been embellished with Gomedhaka, the rich orange-brown Sri Lankan Hessonite variety of the precious stone, Garnet. Other synthetic green and red stones have also been used. The Marathas introduced this style of painting in the sixteenth century, the royal artists combining the existing mural style with the detail, rich texture and elegance of the Mughal miniature. In the early period of this style, diamonds, rubies and other precious stones were used to highlight certain aspects of a painting, such as ornaments, jewellery and dress. In a darkened room they give the impact of a glowing presence.
His Highness Choladesadhipati Shrimant Rajasri Maharaja ilKshatrapati Sri Serfoji n [Sarabhoji], 1777-1832, visionary,eminentscholar, surgeon, was India’s renaissance man of the period and a pioneer of South Indian modernity. He belonged to the Bhonsle_clan of Marathas, the adoptive son of Tuloji Bhonsle and was descended from Shivaji’s half-brother, Venkoji. Under Venkoji the Marathas Jiad conquered Tanjore [Thanjavur] in 1674. The successive Maratha rulers of Taniore contributed immensely to the flourishing of the arts and letters in the kingdom and it became a renowned seat of learning and South Indian culture.
Serfoji’s father, Tuloji, had had a special and close relationship with the German missionary priest, Father Christian Friedrich Schwartz,1726-1789, from the Lutheran Halle Pietist mission at the Danish settlement in Tranquebar [Tarangambadi, near Tanjore]. The missionaries were dispatched to India at the request of the Danish King, FredericklV .The science-based education system taught by the missionaries played a significant role in the spread of modern western learning in the area. Some of the missionaries also worked as diplomats. Schwartz mediated between the powerful ruler of Mysore, Haider All, and the British. When Tuloji died in 1787 Schwartz founded a mission in Tanjore and became raj-guru, protector and regent, to Serfoji, who came to view him as a father figure. As a young boy, Serfoji had studied at St.George’s Asylum in Madras. The Governor of Madras, Lord Robert Hobart advised him on the western social graces. His education now followed the gurukulam style, where pupil and guru live together. Schwartz and Wilhelm Gericke, another of the Priests , taught him mathematics, geography and economics.The surgeon, John Anderson, introduced him to anatomy, sericulture and horticulture. The orientalists, Colin Mackenzie and Francis Whyte Ellis, taught him the Dravidian languages and Sanskrit. Apart from Tamil, Telagu , Kannada, Marathi and Sanskrit, Serfoji also became fluent in English, French, Italian and Latin. He could quote Fourcroy, Lavoiser, Linnaeus and Buffon. He became an expert on Shakespeare and English poetry . In 1749 the British had attempted to restore a deposed raja of Nayak lineage to the throne of Tanjore.They failed and a further expedition was bought off. During the war between the French and the British, parts of Tanjore were occupied by the French Thev were driven out by theBntish in 1773 and Tanjore became a British Protectorate. In 1799, Tanjore became a British Principality and Serfoji continued to rule under British supervision.Serfoji was left with his capital and a small tract of country around it. He successfully negotiated the best settlement for himself under the circumstances. He retained the management of temples and choultries, shelters, in the kingdom. Without the responsibilities and bureaucracy of a large kingdom to manage, Serfoji devoted himself to culture and learning. He began to promote social, cultural and educational activities on an unparalleled scale.
His love of learning and thirst for knowledge led him to enrich Saraswathi Mahal Library. A royal library during the previous Nayak kingdom, it was developed by the Maratha kings of Tanjore but really flowered under Serfoji. A scholar and writer himself, he sent many pundits searching for books and manuscripts for the library.He acquired 4000 books from abroad, read them and endowed them to the library. Some of them still contain his marginal annotations.Influenced by the work of the Tranquebar mission, which had been responsible for the printing of the first Tamil grammar, in 1716, Serfoji set up, in 1805, the first press in South India to use Devanagri type, using stone letters. He had numerous classical and other works on diverse subjects translated into Marathi, such as the Urdu book on Falconry, Bajinamah, which deals with the treatment of diseases of birds. There were treatises on Vedanta, grammar, music, dance,drama, architecture, astronomy, medicine, training of elephants and horses. He had important herbs studied and catalogued in the form of exquisite paintings.
The importance of the painting lies in the fact of its rarity in the portfolio of the artist. Perhaps the only one of its kind done by Raja Ravi Varma throughout his entire career, the portrait has a distinct Tanjore style of usage of stones. The painting has reddish–brown “Gomed” stones along with other red and green stones which reflect light hence giving an aura of divinity to the protagonist of the painting. It makes for a very interesting study of experimental side of Ravi Varma where he has used the Tanjore idiom on canvas instead of board as is the tradition.
The only formal training in art that Ravi Varma received was from his uncle Raja Varma who interned under Alaigiri Naidu, a Tanjore School Artist who was appointed as the Palace Artist at Trivandrum.In all probability this work was executed by Ravi Varma during his early period of training under his uncle,before completely taking to western style of painting after seeing the works of a Dutch artist visiting the court of his brother-in-law.Ravi Varma did not repeat this experiment thus giving the painting a unique position. The painting comes with an immaculate Provenance.
National Art Treasure / Non Exportable