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Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravi Varma Biography Born : 29 April 1848 Died : 2 October 1906 at age of 58 Occupation : Painter and Artist Awards : Kaisar-i-Hind Gol...

Raja Ravi Varma Biography
Raja Ravi Varma
  • Born : 29 April 1848
  • Died : 2 October 1906 at age of 58
  • Occupation : Painter and Artist
  • Awards : Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal
  • Famous Work : 


b)Nair Lady Adorning Her Hair

c)There Comes Papa

d)Galaxy Of Musicians

       Beyond this Arch, nestled in the princely state of Kilimanoor, is the famous Kilimanoor Palace, which witnessed the birth of a child prodigy who was named Ravi Varma. He later became famous as Artist Raja Ravi Varma who made proud his Birth Palace, Town, State and the entire Country. The Prince among the Painters. At a tender age his talent was recognized by his Uncle, Raja Raja Varma who himself was an Artist The rest is History! Which the country was going to remember forever... He moved on from Travancore which is his own Kingdom to be welcomed by many others in India He was accepted by many Kings and Connoisseurs with all their love and respect for his talent. He embraced the European Style and Techniques of Oil Painting... with ease. He visualized and painted Gods and Goddesses and gifted that to the people which changed the way they saw their Deities.

       He immortalized  many Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses, Lords and Others through his Portraits that are full of life. He could visualize scenes of Epics and Mythologies and painted them on huge canvas, The characters given in those epics were phenomenally beautiful and very handsome. He also painted brilliant pictures of semi-nude female figures in their seductive mood and that was not socially acceptable for the pseudo-elites of those days. He was always ahead of his times. He went ahead and established a Litho Press that produced Lithographs and Oleo-graphs of Gods and Goddesses apart form beautiful scenes from the Epics and Mythologies. Thus he could produce great  images at an affordable rate for the benefit of the masses. His style of functioning irritated some sections of the society. He even had to fight his own legal battle to win against those people. 

      He always dared to swim against the stream. He stood firm like a rock against many wrong perceptions about him. He proved to the world that a Work of Art is much beyond people's perceptions about the Artist. Though he had never crossed the shores of India, due to some mythical beliefs of those days, his paintings traveled across the world and won International recognitions. And then... when his body refused to move as fast as his mind he came back to the very same place where he was born to spend the rest of his lifetime. He left this mortal world on the 2nd of October 1906 after immortalizing Places, People, Epics and Mythologies. To remain... the Immortal Artist RAJA RAVI VARMA .......

Raja Ravi Varma : Restoring A Master's Glory
Raja Ravi Varma
     This is a painting of Raja Ravi Varma painted by his son Rama Varma where Rama Varma has shown Ravi Varma with the tools of his trade, the palette on which he used to mix his colors, brushes, the palette knife and so on. But the most important thing there is the bottle of varnish. During the 17th, 18th, 19th century in Europe, all realistic paintings, oil on canvas paintings were given a coat of varnish. This was to add to the intensity and the sheen of these paintings. Varnish was also equally important for Ravi Varma because he was an academic painter. Quite often there are letters one has come across where he is writing to patrons and saying that I, the painting I made for you six months ago I need to come along and give it a varnish because now the painting is dry. That kind of thing. So what painters did not know at this time was the effect that varnish had on paintings over time. 

It could happen after 40 years, or 50 years or 100 years but paintings that were covered by varnish, they looked very good when it was done. Gradually the varnish changed color, it became pale yellow and brown. Not only did the original color, the original paint get hidden, it also hid details. And through the details that got hidden, aspects of a story, nuances of the story that could be conveyed were also hidden. Actually this task is sometimes very exciting. Because when you suddenly come across something which is unexpected and it is always a thrill to see that and to actually come to the bottom of it or let’s say to the truth of a painting. 

Raja Ravi Varma - Hanuman’s Discourse
                                         Hanuman’s Discourse - Raja Ravi Varma

        Hanuman’s Discourse is yet another example of varnish hiding some secrets. So, when RRVHF(Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation) were cleaning it and they had to clean through various layers; there was dirt, there was varnish, there was even wax. And that’s when they discovered the throne that had been painted over and some arches on the background. This painting Ravi Varma had a problem with situating the characters and the throne. He tried to do it in one way, the throne was frontal and there was architectural elements at the back. He realized he wasn’t able to accommodate all the key figures and all that extra thing. So he covered it, painted over it and shifted the throne to an angle and removed, made the background flat. But what is remarkable is that for a very small format painting this reveals and says so much. 

      Hanuman is reading, Ram is interpreting, he is sitting like a guru, he is a teacher. And Sita and Lakshman are leaning forward to hear what he is saying with full concentration. It is a beautiful painting. If his paintings need restoration, they need it because they are dirty, because the varnish is too heavy, or because they have been mistreated. Because at that time, Swadeshi meant denouncing anything which was English. So, it was an anti-Colonial movement. And in that, of course, was thrown in oil paints because they were manufactured abroad. And he was a person who was using oil paints, so he was unpopular. 

                                         Reclining Nair Lady - Raja Ravi Varma

     This is a respectably married Nair lady, slightly intellectual, again RRVHF are pointing out to the fact that here is literacy, women are literate. There was the beginning of cracks when you see the arm, the detail of the arm there were cracks that were developing, this was just the start. So they had to after removing the varnish which, of course, was everywhere, they had to then consolidate the cracks so that even when they were becoming cracks which they would stop it from happening. So now the painting is fine. Once you understand the technique, the way the painting has been made, the materials that have been used, the medium it is painted on, once you understand that you can be restoring. You know, paintings are, in a way, like human beings: some are easy to deal with and some are damn tough.

      Art and science come together and then you are trained into being a conservator. You have to understand the artist; how will he paint? What is the logic of his mind? How did he think? Would he do this? Or would he not do this? Once you understand that you can be restoring. This is a completely different science, it’s got nothing to do with painting. You cannot say that well, they think they can make the leaves look a little brighter, they are rather dull. You can’t use your judgment or opinion and work on the painting. You can’t do that. The painting that is in front of you is sacrosanct. You cannot fiddle with it. Visualize a palace, there are many paintings hanging, some paintings develop cracks and all kinds of horrible things, a hole or whatever. So what then would the manager or the over seer whoever is looking after those paintings do? He will call the local artist who will arrive with his paintbrush and his colors and he will hide all the cracks and the holes with that. So many paintings do arrive with a great deal of overpaint because there was a time when this is the only way people knew how to do things. 

                   Yashoda Pointing Out To Bal Krishna His Cows - Raja Ravi Varma

This is Yashoda, absolutely beautiful. So here is the troublesome varnish again giving us a different kind of reaction. The varnish turned slightly white because of the humidity, and Yashoda’s face one side the eye is whitish, Krishna is whitish. Her clothes, Yashoda’s clothes almost became a very, very, very pale blue as a result of this whitish quality. There were small tiny holes in this painting and Ravi Varma in his own handwriting written on the reverse side the title of the painting and his signature and everything. Unfortunately, because of this small holes it had cut into his own handwriting. So they had to treat the painting very carefully that they would show the reverse, show his handwriting, and yet protect it from the back. 

                                                Aja's Lament - Raja Ravi Varma

     This painting is Aja’s Lament - that is one name, one title, the other one is The Fatal Garland. Aja is on the terrace with his wife and they are having a nice time when Indra passes overhead wearing his garland. Indra’s garland had a special quality to it that if it fell on anyone that person immediately died. Unfortunately, it fell on Aja’s wife Indumati and she died at the moment of their greatest pleasure. When the painting was being cleaned, the part of the left side of the painting where the varnish has been removed, you see his eyes are red, and it's full of unshed tears. So it’s a terrible, tragic moment for Aja that is revealed, otherwise, because of the varnish, such a tragic moment wasn’t visible. 
Rani Ikkavu Tampuran - Raja Ravi Varma

      Now, Rani Ikkavu Tampuran, her vanish was very, very dark. It was a shock actually, literally, that when they removed a little bit on her face to see the contrast between what her face was, the way Ravi Varma had painted it, and how dark the varnish had become. What Ravi Varma did for his patrons, that he made them who they were of course, but, he had a way of adding to the gloss, their looks and it is apparent that Ravi Varma has based this on the photograph of Rani Ikkavu Tampuran which is in circulation. Whereas he has made her face in a flattering way, what he has left are the varicose veins on her hands. 

Bombay Singer - Raja Ravi Varma

     This is the beautiful Bombay Singer, when it arrived(in RRVHF) it was slightly disastrous. It was covered with a deep, yellow coat of varnish, a large portion of the middle had been eaten away by a squirrel. So it takes quite a bit of time to make it like an invisible procedure. The drama really emerged when we cleaned the painting. So, you see, the face, it’s beautiful, the soft tints of the face and what also comes out is the gossamer feel of the Chanderi sari, the strings of the veena which were completely not visible. So these are the subtle things that come out. 

Marthanda Tondaiman - Raja Ravi Varma

     This is Marthanda Tondaiman of Pudukkottai, who was the Crown Prince, destined to be the Maharaja. He had earlier made a figurine, a Chinese figurine on this side, he had painted it here. When he finished making it he realized that it was almost like a straight line between the figurine which ends here and the tip of the feather. So, he used the curtain, he extended it and he covered the figurine and he painted the Evangelina statue below so that the asymmetry sets a rhythm. Over a century later, this paint naturally dries and when oil paint dries one of the things that happens to it is, it becomes transparent. So, through the transparency the figurine, Chinese figurine, came through and they noticed it accidentally when they saw it in the right kind of light. So they took in for an x-ray; when they x-rayed this there is no hesitation at all in what is underneath and what is on top. You can go on and on, that’s the kind of grime that accumulates on a painting. And, of course, it’s slightly dangerous if too much grime is allowed because dust attracts fungus, so, it can start a whole new series of complications on a painting. It mean, there’s an ethics in living life, and certainly conservation carries its own many, many, many rules of ethics, definitely. You are only to deal with what is the troubled area, not the rest. And you have to be invisible, whatever you have used, that it should be in a position to be removed easily and you have to completely respect the original work, whatever. Your work is only with where the damage is, and you sort that out and you move away, quietly. You don’t belong. 

Source : 
Based on the Interview of  Rupika Chawla..

A documentary with Rupika Chawla, art restorer, conservator and historian on preserving and restoring one of India's greatest artist's works to commemorate Raja Ravi Varma's 173rd birth anniversary on April 29, 2021.

An authority on Ravi Varma's art with a deep understanding of his works, Rupika Chawla explains the need for preservation, the ethics of restoration and the delicate nature of conservation of these Classic paintings.

The documentary has been made by Fulbright filmmaker Dr. Anandana Kapur, an award-winning director and educationist.

Also The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation :

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