Monday, August 6, 2007

Raja Ravi Varma: A movie on the Royal Painter

The life of the great Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) is to be made into a Malayalam feature film. Lenin Rajendran, the award-winning director who had made ‘Swathi Thirunal’ a couple of decades back, is busy finalizing the script and other arrangements for the shooting of the movie, which is to start in September. Suresh Gopi, a ‘super star’ of Malayalam films is to play the lead role. The film is expected to be released around Christmas.

Raja Ravi Varma was born into the Kilimanoor royal family of Kerala. His talent was evident at an early age from the charcoal drawings he did on the palace walls. His uncle who used paint in the Tanjore (Thanjavoor) tradition was quick to spot the potential and gave the lad his first lessons.

The then Maharaja of Travancore, Ayiliam Thirunal, took the boy to Trivandrum and arranged for his training, first in water colors, followed by Tanjore style and then oils. The young artist was highly impressed by the by the European paintings in the royal collection and he developed a fusion of Indian traditions with Western techniques.

Raja Ravi Varma came into the limelight when he won the first prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition in 1873. The same year he became internationally famous by winning at Vienna Exhibition.

Raja Ravi Varma’s great creations can be classified into three - portraits, groups, compositions based on epics. He did a few landscapes as well. He painted gypsies, milk maid, aristocracy, British officers, and maharajas, among others. Strangely, his portrayals of the epics gave the lead to what came to be known as ‘Calendar Art’. Many people came to believe that his paintings depicted gods and other characters as they really looked.

Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings had their influence in more serious fields also. It is said that the coiffure of Mohiniyattam performers was changed to the hairstyle of the Kerala ladies in his paintings. In Kathakali, the style of the mask for certain characters was modified according to what the royal painter depicted.

Photographs of some Raja Ravi Varma paintings are reproduced below. To the best of my knowledge, these are public domain.

Also see:
A village artist
Popularizing Raja Ravi Varma


Guru said...

Good post. I saw Raja Ravi Verma's paintings exhibited on a special occasion at Jaganmohan Palace ( I think these were collections from Mysore Royal family)when my teacher in the middle school next door mentioned to us in the class (I guess the year was 1952)and urged us to visit and see them. I knew very little about the great painter, my father used to drop his name whenever he saw a good painting. Our teacher a good painter himself briefed us on the life and work of the great painter before our visit to the JM Palace.

Now a days, I visit Paris many times a year, and during each visit I allocate a slice of time to see a section of the Louvre where great paintings are exhibited. When I see the work of Dutch impressionist painters, I am usually reminded about Raja Ravi Verma's work that I saw at JM Palace in 1952.

Maddy said...

The movie should be interesting I guess, but I am also looking forward to the upcoming movie that covers his relationship with Sugunabai...

As you recall, his studios & presses were in maharashtra and this specific period of his life is not so very well known, but only alluded to.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Guru, you are lucky to have been exposed to Ravi Varma paintings at such a young age. And one must admire your teacher who instilled art appreciation in the minds of his students.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Maddy, I think that it was one of the former Dewans of Travancore (Madhava Rao?) who invited Raja Ravi Varma to Bombay and hosted him there and Dadabhai Phalke owned the press and the studio the royal artist used. I am not sure about Sugunabhai. I must look up all these.

Maddy said...

Abraham - had done a short piece on varma earlier.

madhava Rao dewan of baroda actually first got him to send pictures in 1884 to europe for olegraphing.

regarding his trip north, he served at the Sayajirao Gaekwad's palace in baroda for a while. then in 1894, he started his press in ghatkopar, i guess with Phalke.

he was an extraordinary chap!!

Abraham Tharakan said...

Maddy, I looked up the post in your Blog. The lady is beautiful. I must try and find out something more about the story.

Ashvin said...

My information is that 89 of Raja Ravi Varma's paintings were printed in the form of oleographs at the press in Malavli. I have 5 of them, the aim being to collect the remaining 84, before my wife throws me out of the house.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Ashvin, I would say that you are lucky to have even a collection of five pieces.

Ashvin said...

Dear Mr. Tharakan, I would say so, considering the fact that the last two I bought for Rs. 350 and Rs. 650 each !