Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings take on an NFT avatar in the meta-auction space

In a collaboration featuring Bengaluru’s Gallery G, ‘The Coquette’ and ‘Reclining Nair Lady’ are the first of the artist’s works to be tokenised for the metaverse

February 16, 2022 04:17 pm | Updated February 17, 2022 08:49 am IST

Raja Ravi Varma’s ‘The Coquette’

Raja Ravi Varma’s ‘The Coquette’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As works of historic artists such as MF Husain and Vincent Gogh foray into the metaverse, it was inevitable that those of India’s ‘Father of Modern Art’ do the same. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) of two of Raja Ravi Varma’s famous works will be auctioned from February 17 to 20 on RtistiQ, a Singapore-based online art marketplace that also now does NFT drops; ‘The Coquette’ and ‘Reclining Nair Lady’ are the first of the artist’s works to be tokenised and launched online. 

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To be held in partnership with Gallery G (stylised as ‘gallery g’), Bengaluru, and the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation, the auction would make Raja Ravi Varma’s art accessible to everyone — collectors, investors and the masses. It is akin to owning a piece of India’s heritage, say the organisers. 

“Our vision is to enhance the art experience through technology. Having a traditional gallery and an artist’s foundation on the platform will show how technology can support the art market to build trust and transparency,” says Vinita Angelo, COO and co-founder of RistiQ. 

Ravi Varma’s ‘Reclining Nair Lady’

Ravi Varma’s ‘Reclining Nair Lady’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

National treasures

Considered to be national treasures that cannot be taken out of India, the physical paintings The Coquette and Reclining Nair Lady are currently valued at $2.5 and $3 million, respectively. “These are unique edition NFTs which hold potential to be valued even beyond the originals given their uniqueness, tradability, and accessibility. However, our interest has been to extend the artistic legacy of the great painter as the industry takes a paradigm shift,” Vinita explains.

While auction houses globally have been embracing NFT, Indian auction houses have been slower to enter the scene, says Vinita. “Christie’s auction in March 2021 set the tone for the super growth of NFTs. There has been only one instance of an auction house in India having announced NFT auctions. Much of it can be attributed to the fact that it was only in March 2020 that the RBI ban on cryptocurrency was overturned.”

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In the context of the recent Union Budget developments, it was announced all Virtual Digital Assets (VDAs) will be taxed at 30%. “Until [this announcement], it was still quite unclear as to how the Government of India was planning to deal with private digital currencies and NFTs. Given the regulatory clarity now, it wouldn’t be too long before we see more auction houses in India coming in,” Vinita adds. 

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With more platforms and marketplaces coming up extending NFTs across art, video games and collectibles, the industry is set for a huge change. “NFTs are a perfect piece of technology to provide a tamper-proof model for recording ownership and transaction history in a publicly verifiable form,” Vinita points out. India is home to the largest user base of cryptocurrency holders, she adds. 

Keeping a legacy alive

The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation has been working towards keeping Varma’s artistic legacy alive. Started seven years ago, the Bengaluru-based foundation has been conducting lectures, webinars, bringing out catalogues and books and even podcasts.

“And now, we partnered with Google Arts and Culture to digitise his works. A new realm like the metaverse is just another new space for us to showcase Raja Ravi Varma and his work,” says Rukmini Varma, chairperson of the foundation and the great great-granddaughter of Ravi Varma. 

Celebrating the female form

The two paintings chosen for the auction epitomise the female form, its beauty and strength, says Gitanjali Maini, founder-director of Gallery G. The Coquette, currently held in a private collection, is one of Ravi Varma’s most copied and replicated paintings and is no longer available in the market.

“There are several details in these two paintings that one understands only once they know more about Ravi Varma. For instance, the Reclining Nair Lady suggests that the woman in the painting is educated for she is reading a book. The artist clearly makes a statement about women’s literacy during 1902 when this painting was created. The jewellery and sari worn by The Coquette are elaborate. The painting is estimated to have been made around 1893 and provides clear documentation of textiles, weaving techniques, designs, and styles worn during that period,” concludes Gitanjali.

The auction will be held on the RtistiQ platform on https://art.rtistiq.com/en/nftdrop. Payments will be accepted via credit card and cryptocurrency. 

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