There are a great number of admirers of the legendary artist from kerala who view the relevance of Raja Ravi Varma quite much lies in the fact that he portrayed in his paintings, India as it could be.
Ravi Varma paintings’ aesthetics has become quite ubiquitous today that it has turned hard to imagine what impact they must have had in the erstwhile Travancore’s royal court. Innumerable representations of Gods and Goddesses of India owe greatly to the colour palette of this great artist. Have been none other than his dazzling colours that gave the conceptual Indian Goddesses their Paithani and Maheshwari sarees to drape in to evoke a special feminine approach, which henceforth came to be defined as ‘Indianness’ at least in popular representations.
Viewing it in a different angle one could see that the mythological works of Ravi Varma in particular were embedded in a profound cultural ethos rife in those days, since concurring alongside the Indian nationalistic movement. In fact, the success of the nationalist movement furthered by nationalist icons such as Bal Ganghadhar Thilak considerably relied on the images of Ravi Varma to finalise a portrait of the mythic past of the emerging nation.
Nonetheless, this trait of Ravi Varma as a painter sort of backfired as well, mostly in the fifties and sixties with the emergence of progressive artists such as MF Hussain. A sharp decline was faced by the works of Ravi Varma in popularity graphs as elite of the segment showed an increased tendency to treat Ravi Varma as an obscurantist and just a painter of deities in essence. On the other side, his works despite being modern on their aesthetic side, tend to evoke a kind of nostalgia among those dreamy admirers, for the mystic past.
If the twentieth century had been harsh on Ravi Varma’s reputation, the new millennium has started with a striking element of approval as regards to the Ravi Varma creations. One reason for this is the toning down of the Calcutta and Bombay progressive artists’ heavy influence on the Indian painting realm. The most striking instance of the late acclaims time has been seen imparting on the great artist is the fetching of more than INR 11 crore by Damayanthi painting of Ravi Varma at a recent auction in New York.
The fact that it was Damayanthi that finally pulled back Ravi Varma to the limelight, points to the more deep aspect of Indian feministic essence highlighted by the artist in his paintings. As criticisms say that Ravi Varma has featured as a regulation, upper caste woman occupying the frames with authority, they have seldom looked like considering the genuineness of the concepts – that is the real state of women society of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom that was marked by domination of the upper-caste women. Simply saying he could have been trying to reflect upfront what was happening before him.
To conclude, it could have been definitely Ravi Varma’s romantic Indian themes that became instrumental in the immense popularity gained by him, although it is still the appeal of his heroines that continues to further the view that those women were hardly the icono-graphic types. Instead, they portray themselves as desirable as well as palpable human beings.