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The Artistic Legacy of Raja Ravi Varma 

Raja Ravi Varma: Deciphered 

Raja Ravi Varma (Image source: Raja Ravi Varma)

Born into wealthy aristocratic parentage Raja Ravi Varma– the first artist ever to have successfully melded a powerful Indian element with standard European realism in his works- hailed from Kilimanoor town situated in Kerala during the year 1848. Ravi Varma was famed for his temperate paintings’ ethereal grandeur and rich, vibrant hues that were used in his mythical prints; he was considered one of the best painters in India and ahead of his time.

Using an illusionistic skill, Ravi Varma reinterpreted Hindu mythical tales that are central to the Indian masses. Before this period, most of these characters were painted in a two-dimensional way and could only be identified by their vehicles and other things they carried. He therefore gave them faces because of modern realism thereby making it easier for people to relate with them. Through these works, many beautiful moments from the Hindu scriptures were created, where colours came alive, shapes appeared living and emotional feelings were palpable. In this blog, we will delve into Raja Ravi Varma’s excellent pieces that encapsulate his legacy

Woman Holding a Fruit by Raja Ravi Varma

Woman Holding a Fruit, oil painting by Raja Ravi Varma (Image source: Raja Ravi Varma – The father of Indian Modern Art)

One of the most popular paintings by Raja Ravi Varma is Woman Holding a Fruit. It is his typical oil painting on canvas that represents his charm and finesse; however, it differs from his normal mystical narration about scenes from mythology. The romantic piece of art stands for itself without any historical or mythological background. This masterpiece showcases great artistic skills namely: inventive, skilful and delicate as well from Raja Ravi Varma’s side.

In this oil painting, the woman’s right hand is holding one fruit. Such representations are considered as emblems of sexuality or procreation in some societies. Instead of a subject in any mythological tale moments where the audience knows both the setting and plot, she becomes an enigmatic subject. Viewers are attracted to her side glance through her passionate look, small cunning smile, coy attitude and eye contact. She has got a subliminal seductive effect on people.

Was she just really enjoying the fruit when someone/intruder came in, alerting her enough to adjust her clothes? or… did anything at all show in her inscrutable smile, her long wavy hair, and her sidelong gaze. It is amazing how much the artist’s trip discloses on these points.

 Shakuntala’s Impending Calamity by Raja Ravi Varma

 Shakuntala’s Impending Calamity by Raja Ravi Varma (Image source: Paintphotographs)

Raja Ravi Varma’s oil painting Shakuntala’s Impending Calamity depicts Shakuntala being lost in her thoughts about Dushyanta while meditating; when Rishi (Sage) Durvasa arrives at Shakuntala’s ashram one time. Further away the sage can be seen by the Palmyra tree, partially occluded by it. Meanwhile, Shakuntala is sitting on a boulder below the tree absent-minded and fails to acknowledge the eminent Rishi. Shakuntala is cursed when Rishi Durvas curses that her lover will forget about her. She later requests him to withdraw his curse. He gives in on the condition that Dushyanta should be allowed to have the ring he gave her when he saw it. 

Shakuntala and King Dushyanta which has been retold and adapted numerous times in subsequent works of art and other media have long held a cherished status in Indian mythology and literature. Raja Ravi Varma was inspired by the story to paint many scenes related to the passionate love story between Shakuntala and King Dushyanta. The diary of C. Raja Raja Varma, Ravi Varma’s brother, gives this account of our departure, dated February 23, 1901, at the entry, “At evening, we set forth from our hut to finish the open scenery of Sakuntala’s Impending Calamity.”

The subject matter of the painting, Shakuntala’s Impending Calamity refers to the curse that Rishi Durvasa is about to impose on Shakuntala and can be seen strolling in the distance. The overall capacity of Raja Ravi Varma to capture intricate feelings and mental states in his works is well illustrated by Shakuntala’s Impending Calamity work. It is a fine example of Indian art and gives a good exhibition of Raja Ravi Varma’s artistic talent with its beauty, subtlety and complexity. The painting has an exceptional composition; occupying most part of the canvas is Shakuntala’s figure, while desperation and loneliness define the surrounding landscape. Her jewels and dress are not shouting but simply straightforward to give the scene that feeling of finesse and style.

In conclusion

Raja Ravi Varma laid down the foundation for classical realism in India, employing his method and colour scheme. Opinions concerning him vary: some regard him as a genius while others dismiss him as a kitsch artist; nevertheless, his importance in the history of Indian art cannot be emphasized enough. Nevertheless, in 1904, Viceroy Lord Curzon awarded Raja Ravi Varma Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Prize. Six years later, Raja Ravi Varma passed away at the age of 58 in Kilimanoor, his hometown on the 2nd October 1906. He will always be remembered as India’s most celebrated artist for many years to come. Moreover, he has indeed widened the horizon of Indian art.

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By Soumya Kotian

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