Artist and academic

Ratan Parimoo Photo: K. C. Chitrabhanu   | Photo Credit: K. C. Chitrabhanu

Art historian Dr Ratan Parimoo was in Kerala on the occasion of the 168th birth anniversary of Raja Ravi Varma to deliver the first Raja Ravi Varma Memorial Talk - ‘Re-reading Ravi Varma Paintings’ – at the Ravi Varma Centre of Excellence for Visual Arts in Mavelikara.

Dr. Parimoo, former dean and professor of Art History and Aesthetics at the M.S. University ,Vadodara, and presently director, LD Museum, Ahmedabad, has been studying Ravi Varma’s works for the last five decades and has done seminal work on the artist. Notable among these are ‘Studies on the Art of Raja Ravi Varma’ and ‘The Legacy of Raja Ravi Varma –The Painter’. His words on the poet-prince, ‘He would definitely be placed above the ordinary. Basically, a painter with such prestige and his own creativity, he is in one way or the other showing us our own culture,’ only reinforces the conviction that Ravi Varma’s works adhered to the Indian art tradition and except for adopting techniques he was not influenced by the West as is often claimed. In an interview, the art historian dwells on the revival of interest in Raja Ravi Varma and the art scene.

Do you find a renewed interest in Raja Ravi Varma’s works and his stature as an artist rooted in Indian tradition?

It is difficult to make a generalisation. Whether there is greater art consciousness today and therefore an awareness of Ravi Varma’s art, or is it because of an aura that has now come with the hype generated both by international and Indian auction houses.

The Ravi Varma oleographs are also part of the growing publicity. It is amazing how many oleographs are still available. People have come across unsold stocks of oleographs and it makes its way to the art market. As a practising artist and art historian, many have approached me and from 15 or 20 such pieces, I could authenticate only five or six. When there is a copy they (traders) are taking a chance. In case it passes the test, they make money. For the kind of universality that his work carries, he will always be of interest and an important landmark in Indian art.

In his lifetime Ravi Varma enjoyed royal patronage. Because of the growing interest in Modern Art there was a cooling off towards Ravi Varma in the 1950s. Now we see him in a larger context and position him in the 2,000 year-old Indian tradition.

Above the ordinary in several aspects, we see everyday figures getting transformed by him. The naturalistic representation is what transforms the real into the mythological representations. In a subtle manner he brings the other world view.

There is a tendency to assign strong influence of the West in his art. That period of 1870s when ‘Shakuntala’ was done, there were hardly any art historians in the West who were analysing an artist’s work. There is mention of Theodore Jensen who influenced his works. But, here it is more often technique that he absorbed. Otherwise, drawing, outline, colour filling, and light and shade employed by Ravi Varma were purely intuitive.

The theory of influence of European art in his works is misleading to the extent that the grace and anatomy was the outcome of the artist observing people. The kind of naturalism that Ravi Varma achieved should be taken as not something that he cultivated.

The art historian has a more significant role/function now, considering that these are troubled times and artistic expression becomes more vulnerable – your view.

I do accept that the art historian has the responsibility of interpreting art. There is also the question of how much do I relate to present-day manifestations. We are mixing up all the arts. How much is a painter or a sculptor closer to the political and social problems in comparison with literature? What has literature, theatre, music or cinema been doing through the ages? We do not see the painter or sculpture doing such a thing. It is difficult to define an artist’s role. In painting and sculpture I would like to strike a different note – a positive approach is needed. Painting or sculpture does not normally play that role, though, there are exceptions.

Globalisation and the Internet have opened the market for art. Doesn’t the commodification skew the manner of approaching or valuing works of such works?

It is happening and necessarily affecting creativity adversely. The Internet becomes a tool for duplicating. It becomes a point for shopping. There are art dealers who rely on this method. I doubt whether it is genuine creativity that is being admired and finding a market.

You are a practising artist, critic, and professor of art history. Are not all of these different levels of approaching art?

Some may think that there is a likely conflict between being a practising artist and a critic at the same time. My art training helps me understand my country and its long tradition. I can seamlessly move from one to the other. My own artistic expression and function as an art historian are in a way linked, and therefore, mutually enriching.


‘The Ravi Varma Centre of Excellence for Visual Arts, in Mavelikara is in its early stages. Such centres deserve appropriate support and encouragement. The lasting effect of such courses is in the long term – a space for good creative minds. It is a matter of prestige to be able to locate the institution in Mavelikara which has its significance for the artist, and therefore, has immense historical significance and heritage value.’

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 2:50:14 AM |

Next Story