‘He called it the city of flowers’

Rukmini Varma talks of Raja Ravi Varma’s fondness for Bengaluru

Updated - May 15, 2018 04:09 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2018 04:08 pm IST

Karnataka: Bengaluru : 19/01/2017: Photos of the original paintings done by Rukmini Varma, great grand daughter of Raja Ravi Varma. Rukmini Varma who held her solo exhibition after 35 years. Rukmini Varma, a self-taught artist of the Royal family is bangalore-based and is the chairperson of the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Karnataka: Bengaluru : 19/01/2017: Photos of the original paintings done by Rukmini Varma, great grand daughter of Raja Ravi Varma. Rukmini Varma who held her solo exhibition after 35 years. Rukmini Varma, a self-taught artist of the Royal family is bangalore-based and is the chairperson of the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Known for her realistic portrayals, Rukmini Varma, is also the Founder of the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation in the city. “I prefer to secure and preserve what is left of his legacy, and that is the reason for the birth of the Foundation here” says Bengaluru-based Rukmini Varma. She spoke to MetroPlus about the artist and his work, following the release of her book, Hidden Truth .

Could you tell us about the journey of writing Hidden Truth?

I began writing this book many years ago when I chanced upon some writings by my great, great, grandfather Raja Ravi Varma. These were his jottings in the margins of books that he had been referring to. A relative showed me this. There have been many biographies on Ravi Varma, but no one has dealt with the artist’s inner psyche. That is what I wanted to portray through Hidden Truth . I completed writing the manuscript in the late 1980s, but never thought of having it published until Gitanjali Maini, CEO of the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation chanced upon this manuscript and coaxed me into having it published.

Raja Ravi Varma is said to have loved Karnataka, especially Bangalore and wanted to live here...

Yes Ravi Varma was bowled over by the environs and climate of the city. He called it the city of flowers, he wanted to buy land and retire in Bengaluru. He even lived in Link Road, Malleswaram for some time. His untimely passing away due to diabetes left many of his desires unfulfilled. He visited the city with his brother often en route to Mysore, where he was drawn to the stunning architecture. He had an affinity for Karnataka, as the Mysore Royals were great patrons of his work. He was especially fond of visiting the Mookambika temple and spent several days meditating there. Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar, a great admirer of his work, also trusted him to suggest changes to the Mysore Palace that was being built.

Could you tell us about Ravi Varma’s use of new pigments and paints?

Ravi Varma’s uncle, Raja Raja Varma, was his first mentor, much of what he learnt was from him. He imbibed the techniques that his uncle used, but later went to create his own by adapting Western methodologies. He admired and studied the works of past masters such as Paolo Rubens, Alma Tadema and Burne-Jones. Ravi Varma’s are self created with use of micro skin tones, jewellery and drapery. He was amongst the first Indians to use imported chemical paints gifted to him by his friend and mentor Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran.

Was Varma responsible for thebirth of Indian realism?

He was the first to give form and face to Indian gods and goddesses. Till then we only saw deities as sculptures on temple walls or inside the sanctum. We never actually saw them as men and women in paintings.

The fluidity of his works comes out at the Jaganmohan Palace gallery. Could you comment

Ravi Varma is in his element in one of my favourite works, Victory of Indrajeet , which is part of the Mysore collection. I feel the pyramidal composition of this work, just a few years before his died, makes it one of Ravi Varma’s finest pieces. Each of his collections at Baroda, Trivandrum and Mysore are spectacular. One cannot compare them.

How much of Ravi Varma’s school do you incorporate in your work?

I would like to think that I have inherited some of my great ancestor’s gift. Though I do not copy his technique, many who have seen my work have remarked on the similarity. For instance, I have derived my own style of painting jewellery, which forms the focus, unlike Ravi Varma’s where the human form gets underlined. The painting I did of Ravi Varma wearing the prestigious Kaiser-i-Hind which you see in the book, is special to me as I painted it specially for the book. Compared to other portraits, I have reflected his indomitable spirit with his strong chin, square shoulders and erect torso. He never showed any signs of weakness or pain, even during his last days.

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