Karnataka

Unseen Ravi Varma works to go on display

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131 works, which were printed after his death, to be displayed in Bengaluru from July 8

Come July and Bengaluru will display a rare collection of celebrated painter Raja Ravi Varma’s lithographs for the first time.

In its maiden endeavour to showcase his works, the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation, set up six months ago, will hold a five-week exhibition from July 8 at the National Gallery of Modern Art. This curated work will later travel to other countries.

“We have the rarest collection under one roof that even Ravi Varma himself did not get to see. Most of his lithographs were printed after his demise in 1906,” says Ganesh Shivaswamy, an art collector and one of the trustees of the Foundation.

For the first time, 131 lithographs of Ravi Varma, most from the private collection of Mr. Shivaswamy, will be on display for the public. “Ever since Ravi Varma’s demise, we have not had a single comprehensive display of all of his lithographs. I have been scrupulously exploring all avenues for 25 years to get the original lithographs in my collection,” said Mr. Shivaswamy.

The story behind Bengaluru getting to display the lithographs ahead of even Kerala, the painter’s home State, is interesting. Bharani Thirunal Rukmini Bayi Varma, a member of the 6th generation of the family of the painter, lives in the city as her parents moved to Bengaluru from Thiruvananthapuram during Independence. She had set up the foundation.

Ms. Varma says, “First and foremost, Raja Ravi Varma wanted to retire in Bengaluru. He even lived on Link Road, Malleswaram, for some time. He passed away before he realised his dream. He loved the environs and climate of Bengaluru. In a way, the establishment of the foundation here is actually living his dream. It, therefore, seemed most appropriate to start the foundation here.”

She brought three art collectors from the city on board — gallery owner Gitanjali Maini; Ganesh Shivaswamy, a serious collector of lithographs and paintings; and artist Jay Varma, known for his work with colour pencils.

Experts estimate that Ravi Varma had completed 134 lithographs. “But after intensive research, only 131 are available. Out of these, 127 are from my personal collection,” says Mr. Shivaswamy. The rest came from other collectors.

“Every lithograph (at the exhibition) will carry a curatorial note,” ,” says Ms. Maini, CEO of the Foundation.

On the choice of Bengaluru for the exhibition, Ms Rukmani Bayi says, “First and foremost, Raja Ravi Varma wanted to retire in Bengaluru. He even lived on Link Road, Malleswaram, for some time. He passed away before he realised his dream. He loved the environs and climate of Bengaluru.

In a way, the establishment of the Foundation here is actually living his dream. It, therefore, seemed most appropriate to start the Foundation here.”

She brought three art collectors from the city on board — gallery owner Gitanjali Maini, Ganesh Shivaswamy, a serious collector of lithographs and paintings and artist Jay Varma, known for his work with colour pencils.

Experts estimate that Ravi Varma had completed 134 lithographs.

“But after intensive research, only 131 are available. Of these, 127 are from my personal collection,” says Mr. Shivaswamy. The rest came from other collectors.

“Every lithograph (at the exhibition) will carry a curatorial note and explain the idea behind the picture, highlight its meaning both overt and subtle, and where necessary be critical of its limitations,” says Ms. Maini, CEO of the Foundation.

Lithostones, paints, pictures of the press, and other objects of Ravi Varma rescued by Bengaluru-based collector, Vijaynath Shenoy, will also be on display leading to a total of 262 exhibits in addition to the 131 lithographs.

Ms. Maini says, “While Ravi Varma’s paintings remained a preserve of the aristocracy and upper classes, it was his intention to be democratic and share his cost-effective printed lithographs with all connoisseurs. The Foundation, therefore, picks up the thread where Ravi Varma left off.”

Ms. Rukmini Bayi hopes that the Foundation will keep the memory of her great-great grandfather alive.

“Varma is one of India’s celebrated artists, but are the youth familiar with his body of work? How many know of the wonderful nuances of his brush,” she asks.

“Varma's paintings are energising, as he used human forms to convey beauty and perfection without adopting distortion. It influences your sub-conscious mind. After all, beauty is therapeutic,” says Ms. Varma.

Instead of a formal school, she wants to establish an atelier in Bengaluru, a workshop or studio that focuses on Varma’s body of work.

“When my son Jay returns from art studies in the U.S., I hope to establish an atelier in Bengaluru to teach this form of art. Varma’s work has influenced well-known artistes, including M.V. Dhurandhar, M.A. Joshi and S.M. Pandit,” she says.

Raja Ravi Varma is especially noted for his depiction of gods in the Hindu canon.

“One of my favourites is the lithograph of Krishna hiding behind Yashoda when people have gathered to complain of his mischief. The master painter’s depiction has the baby Lord with a mischievous smile, with no remorse whatsoever,” said Ganesh Shivaswamy.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 4:57:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/Unseen-Ravi-Varma-works-to-go-on-display/article14253708.ece

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