Acclaimed as Michelangelo of modern India for his fine paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses, the epic heroes and heroines in Western academic realism, Raja Ravi Varma was equally derided for theatrical conception and lack of Indian feeling in the treatment of the sacred Hindu subjects.
Now academic realism is not by itself a bad style of painting. It is good for historical painting. It suited Ravi Varma who was primarily a period painter. He was patronised by the ruling British class and their friends, the Royal families of India. Maharajahs of Baroda and Mysore invited him to their courts and gave large commissions.
Regarding Ravi Varma’s style, it must be noted, when he began to paint, the glory of great Mughal, Rajasthani schools had come to an end and in their place had emerged hybrid styles of painting in Delhi, Lucknow, Patna and Tanjore. Ravi Varma painted in the Tanjore style. He painted on the oil medium which he learnt from a British teacher. He was the first Indian to have explored the exciting possibilities of the new medium.
Excellent draughtsmanship is the chief merit of Ravi Varma’s pictures. They exhibit a fine sense of composition. The details are integrated into a pleasing whole. His figures are invested with appropriate moods and actions. For his heroes and heroines he closely followed Malayalam and Sanskrit traditions of visualising the heroes and heroines.
Exhibiting the above qualities are shown in the Salar Jung Museum two oils of Raja Ravi Varma, one titled ‘Kerala beauty’ and the other, ‘Stolen Interview’.
Dep. Keeper (Retd)
Salar Jung Museum
Excellent draughtsmanship is the chief merit of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings