Hidden histories Metroplus

The visionary artist

Artist K.R. Ravi Varma.Photo: Sharat Sundar Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Sharat Sundar Rajeev

Artist K.R. Ravi Varma (b.1887-d.1969), nephew of the celebrated artist Raja Ravi Varma, is perhaps a lesser known person in the contemporary artistic domain. Born in the Kilimanoor royal family, Ravi Varma was an acknowledged painter who was closely associated with numerous progressive undertakings in the capital city.

The artist is nowadays widely remembered as a visionary, who played a key role in establishing the Raja Ravi Varma School in Kilimanoor. The institution, founded in 1925, has made its presence felt in the field of education. Ravi Varma was also associated with the Lalitakala Akademi and in 1944 he became the first president to the newly registered Travancore Ivory Carvers’ Cooperative Alliance Limited.

He lent his services to the Travancore Government in establishing the Sri Chitra Art Gallery and was often called upon to restore old paintings exhibited there. It is no wonder that Ravi Varma’s contributions in the artistic domain was dwarfed by his numerous other engagements.

The talent to draw and paint was inherent in young Ravi Varma. His aptitude in fine arts was identified right from a young age by his mother Mangala Bayi Thampuratti, artist and the younger sister of Raja Ravi Varma. He also received valuable lessons from his maternal uncles.

Unlike Raja Ravi Varma who did not receive formal academic training in fine arts, Ravi Varma graduated from the J.J. School of Arts in Bombay.

“After his studies, Ravi Varma lived mostly in Thiruvananthapuram, where he resided at the Moodathu Madhom. After his marriage to Lakshmi Pillai Kochamma of Thiruvattar Ammaveedu, he resided at the Ammaveedu,” recalls Vilasini, the artist’s granddaughter. “Grandfather maintained a studio in the first floor of the spacious malika at Thiruvattar Ammaveedu, where he gave lessons to his few disciples,” she adds.

The durbar artist C. Neelakanta Pillai, Raghava Varma from Harippad, and N.R.V. Thampan from Vaikkom were his disciples. Chellamma, a talented artist and the wife of Dr. Raman Thampi, the durbar physician to Sree Moolam Tirunal Maharaja was another disciple of Varma.

Aiyappan Thampi, grandson of the artist recalls; “I still recall the old litho press established by my grandfather at Uppidammoodu, near Kaithamukku. In 1940s the Travancore maps to accompany the school text books were printed there.” Apart from these maps, the litho press was responsible for the printing and distribution of some of the famous portraits painted by K.R. Ravi Varma.

The lithograph of the portrait of the Regent Rani, painted by Varma in 1925 was widely circulated in erstwhile Travancore. In 1922, the artist painted a life-sized portrait of C.V. Raman Pillai and in 1931, a portrait of Kumaran Asan.

Although blessed with exceptional artistic talents, Ravi Varma did not become a full-time artist like his uncle. Most of his paintings remained within family circles.

An ardent follower of the ‘Kilimanoor style’ of painting, Ravi Varma’s paintings and compositions exhibit a striking resemblance with that of his renowned uncle. Ravi Varma’s reverence for Raja Ravi Varma is reflected in the fact that the school in Kilimanoor was named after him.

Besides, it was on his instructions that a bust of Raja Ravi Varma, crafted by the renowned sculptor O.V. Achari was placed at the Sri Chitra Art Gallery in Thiruvananthapuram.

Based on an interview with Vilasini and Aiyappan Thampi, grand children of K.R. Ravi Varma.

[The author is a conservation architect and history buff]

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 12:24:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-visionary-artist/article7434321.ece

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