|Raja Ravi Varma|
‘A prince amongst painters and a painter amongst princes’ - the name of Raja Ravi Varma, artist extraordinaire, is one that few art lovers in India would be unfamiliar with. Born in 1848 at the Kilimanoor Palace in Travancore, Ravi Varma displayed early signs of his exemplary talent as he scrawled on the walls of the palace with charcoal.
Fortunately, the talent of the youngster was not scolded away as vandalism as his uncle recognized his gift. While he, Raja Raja Varma, gave the artist his preliminary lessons his formal training began at the age of 14. However, it was not till he was about 17 that his introduction with oil paints came about and the rest, as they say, is history.
Renowned for his depiction of Indian culture, particularly mythology, there is something near magical about his work. It has been over a century since the artist breathed his last but if you look at his work it shines as though it were painted yesterday. Quite apart from the exquisite detailing of the works one thing that would never fail to catch your eye is the way his subjects seem to breath as though rather than being trapped in a painting they were just looking at you through a window.
The ones that leap to mind even as I think of his works are the one he did of Rani Lakshmi Bai where the queen stands in her regalia, her hand placed on a stack of books, where even the intricate border of her sari and the name of each book is discernible; and the painting depicting the scene from Ramayana where Ravana slays Garuda as he attempts to intervene with his abduction of Sita. Even though the face of the heroine is hidden in the painting the artwork is alive with her anguish.
Closely acquainted with the habits and graces of Indian royalty his paintings are unsurprisingly flawless in details of not just the finery but also their attitudes and poses. A lot of his works depict Goddesses where he has used South Indian women, who he considered beautiful, as models. But whether depicting mythological characters or real people, his paintings, more than anything else, look like a moment frozen in time where some real people were just caught as they went about living their lives.