Raja Ravi Varma: Knowing the man behind his paintings

To celebrate the works of the artist, there was a book reading session of Hidden Truth: Raja Ravi Varma: The Inside Story, penned by his great-great-granddaughter and artist Rukmini Varma.

Published: 23rd January 2019 01:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd January 2019 06:25 AM   |  A+A-

Raja Ravi Varma

Hidden Truth: Raja Ravi Varma: The Inside Story is available on e-commerce websites.

Express News Service

CHENNAI: I’ve always been fascinated by Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, and I’m a huge fan of his pieces. I love how he captures and depicts the nuances in expressions and beauty of a woman, right from their voluptuous contour, colour tone, and the jewellery. To an extent, he makes their presence felt through the canvas,” said Damini. She was one among the many art connoisseurs, aspiring painters, and academicians who had gathered at the government museum in Egmore that houses some of his exclusive art works — ‘Sakuntala’, ‘The Miser’ and ‘The Lady with the Mirror’.

To celebrate the works of the artist, there was a book reading session of Hidden Truth: Raja Ravi Varma: The Inside Story, penned by his great-great-granddaughter and artist Rukmini Varma. She is also the chairperson of The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation in Bengaluru.

Rukmini is a leading Indian artist who paints in the classical tradition. She was born in 1940 as princess Bharani Thirunal Rukmini Bayi Thampuran of Travancore state. Her book on the inside story of Raja Ravi Varma was launched in early 2018. The personal aspect of Ravi Varma in the book is based upon what she had heard about him from her grandmother — the last Maharani of Travancore — Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, who knew much about his personal experiences that others did not.

“Writing the book was an interesting and overwhelming experience. I felt as though my great-great-grandfather was speaking to me directly. This book is about his inner psyche, emotions, and physical sufferings because of diabetes. I managed to get two books in which Raja Ravi Varma had made short notes on the margins of the book. It was challenging to decode the meaning because there were hardly around nine words in the whole of his notes. I managed to interpret and produce them in the book,” said Rukmini. 

The late artist is worshipped for his remarkable usage of colours and techniques. Talking about what she admires the most in her great-great-grandfather, Rukmini said, “Two things — strong control of emotions and discipline. I haven’t been able to inculcate those qualities in me, but I respect him for that. Creativity comes only through consistency and discipline.”

Rukmini, in the early days, trained for two weeks under Rama Varma, Raja Ravi Varma’s son. She is, at present, the only woman painter in the lineage and has evolved her own technique, themes, and characteristics. Three of her portraits have been featured in the book. She is currently working on a painting series and book on the topic — how cosmic energy in nature can affect a person. 

“Raja Ravi Varma was inspired by western artists for their techniques and sense of colours. He got his first paint box then from Madras. Until then he would use charcoal and pencil sketches. He would develop indigenous colours using whatever was available in nature, and also went on to develop a set of greasy crayons. His time-consuming methods, subjects, and combination of hues brought life to the art. From gods to a common man, people from all walks of life found a place in his canvas. Although he used several models for his painting, the measurements for the facial features were that of his daughter’s,” she added. 

Rukmini’s favourite part of the book is the culmination of his research and some of this last works in 1906. To preserve his thought process, skills and techniques, Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation was established in 2015. 

Indigenous colours

Raja Ravi Varma would develop indigenous colours using whatever was available in nature, and also went on to develop a set of greasy crayons. His time-consuming methods, subjects, and combination of hues brought life to the art. He got his first paint box from Madras.

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