Raja Ravi Varma was born on April 29, 1848 in the royal palace of Kilimanoor, 25 miles from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, India. His parents were Umamba Thampuratti and Neelakandan Bhattathiripad. At the age of seven years he started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. At the age of 14, Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja took him to Travancore Palace and he was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu. He was later given lessons in oil painting by a British painter, Theodor Jenson.
Raja Ravi Varma was one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian Arts. He brought Indian painting to the attention of the larger world; provided a vital link between the traditional Indian art and the contemporary art. Raja Ravi Varma is most remembered for his paintings of beautiful sari clad women, who were portrayed as very shapely and graceful. He is considered as modern among traditionalists and a rationalist among moderns.
In 1873, Ravi Varma won the first prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition. He achieved worldwide acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna in 1873. He travelled throughout India in search of subjects. Varma’s paintings were also sent to the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 and he was awarded three gold medals.
He travelled throughout India in search of subjects. He often modelled Hindu Goddesses on South Indian women, whom he considered beautiful. 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’s representation of mythological characters has become a part of the Indian imagination of the epics. Although Varma was criticized severely by later artists who saw the content of his work as only superficially Indian because, despite depicting mythological Indian themes, it imitated Western styles of painting. That view was instrumental in the formation of the Bengal School of Art (or Bengal school), whose members explored ancient Indian artistic traditions with a modernist sensibility.
Raja Ravi Varma was fascinated by the power and forceful expression of European paintings, which came across to him as strikingly contrasting to stylized Indian artwork. His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art.
In 1904, Viceroy Lord Curzon, on behalf of the British King Emperor, bestowed upon Varma the Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal. A college dedicated to fine arts was also constituted in his honour at Mavelikara, Kerala. In 2013, the crater Varma on Mercury was named in his honour. Considering his vast contribution to Indian art, the Government of Kerala has instituted an award called “Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram”, which is awarded every year to people who show excellence in the field of art and culture.
1868 Learnt the Oil Painting Technique from European Painter, Theodre Jensen, and Alagiri Naidu, a court Painter of Swati Tiruna, Maharaja of Travancore
1862 Self taught and received first painting lessons from his uncle Raja Raja Varma
Selected Posthumous Exhibitions
2011 'Ethos V: Indian Art Through the Lens of History (1900 to 1980), Indigo Blue Art, Singapore
2011 ‘Manifestations VI', Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi
2003 ‘Manifestations', Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi and World Trade Centre, Mumbai
1993 Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Oleographs at Sri Chitra Art Gallery, Trivandrum; National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), National Museum, New Delhi
1903 Lalit Kala Sangam, Chennai
1899 Baroda Puranic Commission Exhibition, Baroda & Mumbai
1893 Worlds Colombian Exhibition, Chicago
1889 Inaugural Exhibition, Bombay Art Society, Mumbai
1880 Exhibition at Poona
1873-74,76 Fine Arts Society, Chennai
1873 Vienna Exhibition, Austria
Honours and Awards
1880 Gaekwad Gold Medal, Poona
1873,74,76 Governors Gold Medal, Fine Arts Society Exhibition, Chennai
1873 Vienna ExhibitionBack to Artists View Artworks of Raja Ravi Verma