BENGALURU: It took Rupika Chawla around six years to restore eight of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings that are more than a hundred years old, and a newly released documentary takes you through the art and science behind bringing back an artwork to its original sheen. To mark the 173rd birth anniversary of the painter, on April 29, the Raja Ravi Varma Foundation Bengaluru released a 16-minute documentary titled Raja Ravi Varma: Restoring a Mater’s Glory. Private collectors who wished to remain anonymous approached the foundation with their pieces with requests to restore them.
The foundation got in touch with Delhi-based art restorer Rupika Chawla who painstakingly began the job in 2016. According to the foundation, most of the paintings were worn out, dumped into attics, and generally neglected for years. The objective of restoration is to bring back the lustre and value of these works so that remain so for the next 100 years. Restoration is time consuming. If the paintings are not badly damaged, it could take six months to repair them.
If paintings are badly damaged by time and climatic conditions, it could take around 18 months to complete one painting. In all, Chawla worked on the eight paintings for around six years. “Varnish had a good effect on the paintings when it was done. But over the years, the varnish changed colour and became pale yellow and brown, because of which, the original details of the paintings and aspects of the story that could be conveyed were hidden,” Chawla says.
Made by Dr Anandana Kapur and conceptualized by Gitajali Maini, CEO of Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation, the documentary gives viewers a glimpse of what the paintings were like before they were restored. For example, a painting titled Hanuman Discourse was covered with layers of dirt, wax and varnish which sort of covered the little nuances the story carried.
The painting talks about Lord Rama as a teacher interpreting what Hanuman is reading as Sita and Laksman look on. Some of the other works restored include a painting of an intellectual Reclining Nair Lady which indicates literacy among women, and a painting of Yashodha showing cows to Balakrishna. Chawla also explains that one must understand the science and art behind the paintings to ensure the work is restored without harming the fundamental principles of creativity. “Your work is only with where the damage is. You sort that out and move away quietly,” says Chawla.