An artist for the masses

A new book from MAPIN, Ahmedabad, Raja Ravi Varma: Life and Times in Colonial India celebrates the career of Raja Ravi Varma (1848 - 1906) who, arguably, was the first major Indian artist to adapt western techniques to paintings on Indian themes... His portraits, as well as the images of familiar stories from mythology in the late 1880's captured the imagination of Indians awakening to the possibility of Independence... Then modern techniques of mass production, via oleography, brought these paintings to the common man- and there is probably not one middle-class home in South India that did not have a reproduction of Saraswati, or Krishna and Yashodha, or some similar image...

His influence- and reputation- was huge. Ravi Varma's work "has maintained a lasting effect on the Indian sensibility, making him the best-known classical painter of the modern era.

This book is an account of Ravi Varma's traditional background and environment and the manner in which they related to the modernization of colonial India; his profession as an aristocratic itinerant painter, his royal patrons, his portraits and the analysis of his mythological and iconic paintings; his influence on the Indian mindset, the sources used by him and his controversial status from the late nineteenth century till today even while contemporary painters continue to be inspired by his art and his attitude. There is also a chapter devoted to the technical examination of his paintings, their conservation, his methodology of painting and the problem of fakes and copies. The book is lavishly illustrated with pictures taken from princely and private collections and museums. Several royal states of India as well as the rich and powerful were patrons of Ravi Varma whose portraits he painted in large numbers. These also appear in the book among the works that have never been seen before, previously undisclosed maps, letters, photographs and other archival material."

The author, Rupika Chawla is a conservator of paintings who has been instrumental in restoring several Ravi Varma paintings.

Raja Ravi Varma: Life and Times in Colonial India is in our Art Section. Hardcover, 416pages with 384 colour illustrations. Rs 3500. ISBN: 9788189995089