Raja Ravi Varma is the most celebrated painter of India. Ravi Varma is considered as modern among traditionalists and a rationalist among moderns. He was the first artist to cast the Indian Gods and mythological characters in natural earthy surroundings using a European realism. He is famous for his depiction the scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana in his paintings.
Birth, Childhood and education
He was born on April 29, 1848 at Kilimanoor, a small town in Kerala. His uncle first noticed his artistic talents and gave him elementary art lessons.
At the age of 14, he was sent Thiruvananthapuram where he stayed at the Moodath Madam house of the Kilimanoor Palace and was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu. Ravi Varma had been using the indigenous paints made from leaves, flowers, tree bark and soil which his uncle Raja Raja Varma prepared for him.
He learnt oil painting by watching a visiting Dutch portrait artist who painted the portraits of Ayilyam Thirunal and his wife. Ravi Varma’s fame as a portrait artist soared with several important portrait commissions from the Indian aristocracy and British officials between 1870 and 1878, and the sensitivity and immense competence this artist still remains unsurpassed.
Raja Ravi Varma received widespread acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna in 1873. He got recognition abroad mainly for his portraits, and portrait-based compositions. These works finely blended the elements of the early Tanjore custom of painting Nayikas (the feminine emotions being the central theme) and the graceful realism of European masters.
In 1904, Viceroy Lord Curzon, on behalf of the King Emperor bestowed upon Raja Ravi Varma the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal and he was awarded the title of Raja.
in 1894 he set up an oleography press called the Ravi Varma Pictures Depot. In 1894 and 1888, Ravi Varma and his younger brother C.Raja Raja Varma took a tour around India, in search of images and landscapes for inspiration.
Ravi Varma is particularly noted for his paintings depicting episodes from the story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala, and Nala and Damayanti, from the Mahabharata.
Raja Ravi Varma died of diabetes on October 2, 1906, in his Kilimanoor Palace home overflowing with friends, relatives, dignitaries and the media.