Did you know, Sugandha Bai, the model thought to be the subject of many Raja Ravi Varma paintings is a fictional character?
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you – but that is the truth.
It’s was the imagination of Ranjit Desai, who made a novel based on the life of Raja Ravi Varma, popularised by several Hindi and Malayalam movies.
The real subjects of his paintings were the women Ravi Varma met during his life and travel throughout different regions of our country.
Isn’t that a new information?
Similarly, there are many more impressive facts about Raja Ravi Varma paintings that you may have not heard before.
I promise after reading this post, you’ll be much more knowledgeable about his paintings.
#1 There are multiple versions of his popular artworks…
Some of the paintings by Raja Ravi Varma has multiple versions.
For example, when you check our website for “Lakshmi” paintings, you’ll see there are 4 different versions of similarly looking goddess Lakshmi paintings. On some, the changes are subtle – you’ll notice more detailed backgrounds and colour variations. But on others the differences are pretty evident – the faces look different, the background is entirely different and there are more number of birds or animals in the art piece.
#2 The most sought Raja Ravi Varma painting is this…
When you think about Ravi Varma, which painting comes to your mind first? To me and many others in our office, its the beautiful Hamsa Damayanti art piece. We’ve seen this art piece in hundreds of living rooms.
In fact if you ask me, this is one among the top 5 paintings people buy from our Raja Ravi Varma collection. And just like Lakshmi paintings, this painting also has multiple versions.
#3 Most people don’t know this painting was made by Raja Ravi Varma…
When we talk about Raja Ravi Varma, It’s often believed that all of his paintings are about epics from Hinduism, but that’s not entirely true. For example, checkout the following artwork.
This painting was a commissioned work by Raja Ravi Varma to Dr. MI Phillip for his Kumarakom Hospital. The subject of this painting is the Bishop of Parumala, Kerala of whom, Dr. Philip was a believer. This artwork is currently adorning Attamangalam Church, Kumarakom, Kerala.
#4 The last painting of Raja Ravi Varma is incomplete…
This following painting is considered to be last painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
As you can see from the picture, this painting is still incomplete. The subject of this painting is a parsi lady sitting in a chair lost in her thoughts. Even though, Raja Ravi Varma did not complete this painting in his life time, we’ve managed to digitally separate the subject from the rest of the incomplete work and finish it to an artwork like some of the other Ravi Varma paintings.
#5 The most expensive Raja Ravi Varma painting is this…
Did you know there are five paintings by Raja Ravi Varma that made more than 3 crores at international auctions?
- Tilothama (Sold for Rs.5.64 Crores at Sotheby’s)
- Lady in Crimson Red Saree (Sold for 4.16 Crores at Sotheby’s)
- Maharaja of Travancore Welcoming British Officials (Sold for 5.5 Crores at Bonham’s)
- Damayanthi and Her Friend (Sold for 11.9 Crores at Sotheby’s)
Among this, one painting managed to score almost same as the top three combined. This is that painting.
It was sold to a private collector for more than 20 crores at Pundole’s.
There are two more paintings that are worth mentioning here.
- Portrait of Shungrasoobyer Avergal (Sold for 2 Crores at Pundole’s)
- Portrait of a Parsee Lady (Sold for 75 Lakhs at Sotheby’s)
#6 There are Raja Ravi Varma artworks with conflicting titles…
The earlier copies of this artwork was titled as “Shakuntala Vanvas”. But later copies were named as Sita Vanvas. However, the original painting that these artwork is based on is named as ‘Shakunthala’. It’s not clear why this painting was renamed in later versions. Check the name of the original artwork at bottom of the prints.
#7 ‘Lady with Lamp’ is not a Raja Ravi Varma painting
It’s often mistaken that this painting is by Raja Ravi Varma.
It might be due to fact that this painting shares of same floor at Jagan Mohan Palace art gallery and are closely kept among many Ravi Varma paintings. However, this is not a Raja Ravi Varma artwork. Its from another great artist named HL Haldankar. And the name of this painting is not lady with lamp, its Glow of Hope. You can read more about this artwork here: Truth about Raja Ravi Varma’s Lady with Lamp Painting
#8 New post office opened at Kilimanoor to handle Ravi Varma paintings
When Ravi Varma started offering copies of his paintings, the response was immense that a new post office was commissioned at his place, Kilimanoor just to handle the extra load of new enquiries and letters.
This post office still exists at the Kilimanoor, but has relocated to Kilimanoor-Alamcode main road.
#9 European painting realism techniques are first seen in Raja Ravi Varma paintings in India
In 1863, Maharaja of Travancore invited a British painter Theodore Jensen to create some portraits for his palace. It was during this time, Ravi Varma became impressed with European realism and their oil painting techniques. With support from Maharaja and training from Theodore Jensen, Ravi Varma learned the basics of oil painting. And in few months, he became proficient in these kind of paintings.
Before that, most of the paintings drawn by Indian artists didn’t closely look like humans. They were miniature paintings made on smaller canvases. It was Raja Ravi Varma who started producing paintings on larger canvases. This realism was one of the main characteristics that made him famous.
#10 Decorated prints started with Raja Ravi Varma paintings…
In the early years of 20th century, when Ravi Varma paintings became famous, people found new ways to decorate their favourite possessions. They used embroidery and glitters to decorate Ravi Varma artworks to further enhance the beauty of these paintings.
It started with women from Chettinad, Tamil Nadu who used sari and small glitters to sew over Ravi Varma lithographs. The idea spread further to Karnataka and some parts of Maharashtra.
Now, you can only get these art pieces on ebay as vintage collections.
#11 Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara holds the largest collection of Raja Ravi Varma paintings
Did you know the Gaekwad of Baroda, Sir R. Madhavrao commissioned Ravi Varma to make beautiful paintings for his palace durbar?
During his stay at Vadodara, Ravi Varma made more than two dozens of paintings for the Gaekwad. Most of these paintings were based on scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. These paintings are still on display at Laxmi Vilas Palace.
#12 Raja Ravi Varma paintings were inspiration to Amar Chitra Katha…
Ravi Varma painted male subjects more masculine and female subject more feminine in his paintings. That inspired many illustrators during his time to follow this path. Even today, we can see that Amar Chitra Katha follows this approach.
#13 Most of Raja Ravi Varma’s artworks are portrait paintings…
The majority of Ravi Varma paintings have a vertical layout. Only a handful of his paintings are in horizontal layout. In our store, about 140 has a portrait layout while the handful are in landscape layout. Among these paintings, majority of art pieces are portraits or portrait based compositions of myths and legends.
#14 Women portrayed by Raja Ravi Varma in paintings are a blend of women from different parts of India…
The women depicted in Raja Ravi Varma paintings are a amalgam of the women he saw during his travel through our country. They have skin colour of North Indian women. And they wear sari like the way they are worn in North India. But, when it comes to jewellery, Raja Ravi Varma chose the traditional style jewellery from South India.
#15 Raja Ravi Varma paintings were inspiration to early Indian movie posters…
Its a well known fact that Dadasaheb Phalke was a factory staff of Ravi Varma Press in early 19th century. When Phalke moved to movie industry, he used his creativity and inspiration to make artwork like movie posters.
#16 Some of the oleographs were not actually created by Raja Ravi Varma, but were ghost-painted for him…
When you look closely to some of the oleo graphs from Ravi Varma Press, you would notice that some of the art pieces does not have the life and beauty of many other Raja Ravi Varma artworks. There is only one thing that explains that – it was not made by Ravi Varma. It was ghost painted by someone else for him. And from what we can learn, some of these paintings were commissioned work by other artists lived during his time.
#17 Raja Ravi Varma paintings portray highly dramatised scenes…
The one thing that differentiated Raja Ravi Varma with other contemporary artists was the dramatisation of scenes. He often dramatised the scenes to a level that it looked amazing on an artwork. For example, see the artwork of Jatayu Vadh, you could have painted a fallen Jatayu and crying Sita. Instead, Ravi Varma chose to paint the moment when Jatayu was attacked.
#18 The most favourite subject of Raja Ravi Varma paintings is NOT Shakunthala
If someone ask you who was the best subject of Raja Ravi Varma paintings? Most would answer it as Shakunthala. But the reality is that Ravi Varma made more Krishna paintings than Shakuntala paintings.
#19 There are Navaratri dolls based on Raja Ravi Varma paintings
The familiar faces of our gods did not end up being only on Ravi Varma paintings, they were also an inspiration to many beautiful Navrathri Dolls.
In addition to dolls of goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati, the other popular ones are the dramatic scenes from Ramayana — Jatayu Vadh, Sita Swayamvar and Rama Sagar Darpan.
#20 Early oleographs of Raja Ravi Varma paintings were imported from Germany
In the early days of Ravi Varma press, majority of prints were imported from Germany as it was impossible to make quality prints in India. As technology improved and cost decreased, Ravi Varma press could afford to install a German machine during the last part of 19th century. Then onward, all prints were made locally.
#21 Not all paintings are based on epics…
It’s often thought that most of the Raja Ravi Varma paintings are based on the epics. But there are many paintings that are from real world.
For example, Raja Ravi Varma was commissioned to make paintings of family members of many Maharajahs from Baroda, Mysore, and Travancore. Ravi Varma also made many paintings that are based on real-life subjects.
A perfect example is the painting titled ‘Maharaja of Travancore Welcoming British officials‘, which was based on a real event. Raja Ravi Varma also painted some real life subjects such as The Miser, Portrait of Kerala Lady etc.
#22 Raja Ravi Varma paintings gave faces to Gods…
It’s often believed that before Ravi Varma, our gods looked different. They had no humane feel to them. They were not relatable and were less worshipped. But when Ravi Varma painted them with a human touch, we could easily see and comprehend our favourite gods like friendly human beings.
#23 Rama Varma did finishing touches to many Raja Ravi Varma paintings…
From history books, we can learn that Raja Ravi Varma was accompanied by Rama Varma, his brother, on almost all occasions. Not only that, many of the final touches to Ravi Varma paintings were done by Rama Varma, who was also a great painter and illustrator.
Now, It’s Your Turn
Which of these facts were new to you? Do you know any other interesting facts that we missed? Are you seeing any of these paintings for the first time? Which of these paintings would you keep in your home? And why? Let the world know your thoughts via comments.