Raja Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma is considered as one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian Art. He was born in 1848 to an aristocratic family in Travancore state. Having shown an interest in art at an early age, he received patronage from Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal, the ruler of Travancore, when he was 14.
He studied oil painting with the Danish painter, Theodore Jensen in the royal court. This period marked a shift in his style as a painter and led him to develop a method that incorporated European realism with Indian iconography. In fact, he was the first Indian to adopt oil as a medium and incorporated the Western techniques of composition and perspective to depict Indian subjects.
Especially drawn to the charms of South Indian women, he depicted them in alluring portraits that exuberated a magical aura of royalty and elegance. He also depicted his close-kin and made them popular through his art.
However, it was the human-like depiction of the deities from the Hindu mythology that became a distinguishing aspect of his work. He was greatly inspired by characters from the Indian epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.
He was awarded the Governer’s Gold Medal in 1873, which turned him into a much-sought-after artist by the Indian and European nobility at the time.
With the growing popularity of lithographs, Raja Ravi Varma set up his own press in Bombay where he reproduced his works in colour. This made his art affordable to the masses and increased their involvement in art.
He has had many significant exhibitions both in India and Internationally. His work was showcased at a prominent exhibition in Vienna in 1873 and Chicago in 1893. He was also awarded with the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold medal by Lord Curzon on behalf of the British King Emperor in 1904. The Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram (Raja Ravi Varma Award) is an annual award given by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi, to a person showing excellence in the field of art and culture.
A prolific artist of his time, Raja Ravi Varma continues to inspire artists even today. He passed away on 2nd October 1906, in Kilimanoor, his birthplace.