Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravi Varma is known as the father of modern Indian Painting. This King of painting endeavored to develop Indian painting from its traditions of using natural paints and hovering around religion and its customary rituals into using the western medium of oil paints and independent forms and contexts. Though he was accused of westernizing Indian painting, his endeavor to draw the painting of his country from the cloistered halls of the royal palaces and the dark insides of the temples were widely appreciated and became popular to a great extent.  He made print outs of his paintings and made available to any one who wants to buy them. It was the role he undertook with these oliograph prints in democratizing Indian painting that made this great painter from Kerala the father of modern Indian painting.

Ravi Varma was born in Kilimanoor in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala, on April 29, 1848, in a palace related to the royal family of Travancore. The prefix ‘Raja’ was something he added later to his given name only to designate his connections. He learned painting from his uncle Rajaraja Varma, and reached the city of Thiruvananthapuram in May 1862.The King was impressed with his artistic acumen and asked him to stay on in the city. He utilized the time to learn the styles employed in the Italian paintings he saw in the royal palace, and also learned the painting styles of some of the Tamil artists he met there. Theodore Jenson, a Dutch artist who was on a visit to Trivandrum in 1868, was another source for him to learn the intricacies of the western style of painting, the techniques of oil painting. Ravi Varma rose to fame when he bagged the first prize at an exhibition in Madras (now Chennai) in 1873 for his painting ‘Nair lady with her plait decked in jasmine’. The same work won an international prize at an exhibition in Vienna, Austria. In 1872, Ravi Varma won another award in Madras for his painting ‘The Music Rendering of Tamil Ladies’. In 1876 he bagged one more prestigious price for a painting on Shakuntala.