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Modern & Contemporary Indian Art Modern & Contemporary Indian Art RAJA RAVI VARMA (1848 - 1906)
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Gifted by the Nizam of Hyderabad to Shri U.S.Tomar in the 1940s. Exhibited at Nagpur by his wife. Thereafter by descent with the Tomar family. Subsequently acquired by a prominent collector from Bangalore.
One of India’s most iconic artists, born in Kilimanoor, Kerala, on 29th April 1848, Raja Ravi Varma belonged to a family of scholars, poets and artists. He received his first art lessons from his uncle, himself a Tanjore artist, and was later educated as a court artist in Trivandrum. Through private lessons, observations and hard work, Raja Ravi Varma learned to work with the new pliable medium of oil paints. His creativity was further augmented by following classical music, watching Kathakali, studying preserved manuscripts and listening to the artistic interpretations of the epics. His unique style incorporated a European realism, with distinctly Indian mythological themes. The principles of perspective in academic realism that dominated the European art scene were effortlessly adopted by him. The distinguishing factor, however, was Raja Ravi Varma’s depiction of mythological figures in a natural human style rather than the traditional supernatural imagery used to convey gods, goddesses and their myths or tales.
Through the 1870s and 1880s, he was commissioned to paint several portraits of royal Indian families, foreign dignitaries and British colonial officials. In 1873, Raja Ravi Varma won the first prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition and also achieved international acclaim for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna. He received several other awards, participated in numerous exhibitions and travelled extensively throughout India in search of subjects and patrons. In 1892, Raja Ravi Varma began his own oleography press called the Ravi Varma Pictures Depot in Bombay, where colour reproductions of his own work made him one of the most prolific artists of his time. The oeolographs have had a lasting effect on the Indian sensibility thus making him the most popular of classical painters. Raja Ravi Varma died in Kilimanoor, on 2nd October 1906.
The ‘Shiva’ painting reflects Raja Ravi Varma’s deep understanding of Hinduism and Indian mythology. His fascination for the human form and his ability to masterfully capture the body’s grace is abundantly evident in his portrayals such as this. Shiva, the omniscient yogi, who lives an ascetic life on Mount Kailash is often depicted in rapt meditation. The serpents that garland him denote wisdom and eternity. While he is often shown garlanded around the neck with a snake however in this painting Raja Ravi Varma takes liberties in wrapping the serpent around Shiva’s waist like a girdle. Shiva’s place is unique among the Hindu pantheon and his worship is a pan-Hindu tradition, practiced widely across all of India. Benevolent as well as fearsome he is also depicted as the Cosmic Dancer.
Eyes half closed in meditation, this is a rare painting by Raja Ravi Varma of Shiva in the form of Dakshinamurthy. The brother to Saraswathi Devi, Dakshinamurthy is Shiva in the form of the God of Learning. Perhaps for this reason, the artist has adorned the deity with strings of pearls.
He is engrossed in meditation, beyond material possessions and ecstatic in simple surroundings. His hair is tied up in a knot, adorned with the crescent moon. His forehead is smeared with sacred ash and flashes a sparkling third eye. His ear holds the ‘Makara Kundalam’. His four-hands hold the Kamandala (pot), pustaka (book), akshamala (rosary) and chin-mudra (sign of knowledge). He is seated in padmasana with a yoga-patta, in the form of a snake. He is attired in a leopard skin. Raja Ravi Varma, perhaps, used this painting as an exemplar for his oleograph entitled ‘Shankar’.
National Art Treasure. Non-Exportable.
Condition NotesRestored - Report on Request.