Raja Ravi Varma's Dramatic Lithographs

Raja Ravi Varma's widespread fame came from his mythological paintings

By Blessy Augustine Updated: Mar 12, 2019 11:03:31 IST
Raja Ravi Varma's Dramatic Lithographs Jatayu-Vadha, by Raja Ravi Varma, Chromolithograph, dimensions variable.

Born to an aristocratic family in 1848, in the princely state of Travancore (now Thiruvananthapuram), Raja Ravi Varma learnt oil painting from Theodore Jensen, a British artist employed at the court of Travancore. Varma is credited as the first Indian painter to use Western techniques of perspective and composition and adapt them to Indian subjects and themes. Sought after by the Indian nobility just as much as the Europeans in India, he was often commissioned to paint their portraits. But his widespread fame came from his mythological paintings. Varma was apt at rendering dramatic moments from mythology on to canvas, such as the scene above of Ravana slaughtering the bird Jatayu as a petrified Sita looks away. In 1894, he set up a lithographic press and mass-produced his paintings as oleographs. The affordability of these images and Varma’s ability to give Indian mythology a new visual vocabulary made him a household name.

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