Raja Ravi Varma is perhaps one of the most widely known Indian painters, and while his nude paintings are the biggest pull factor, it is also a fact that he was a painter much ahead of his times who brought a shock factor to the Indian art scenario by takings risks that none was willing to take.
Born in 1848 on 29th April, Varma died at a young age of 58 in 1906 and in 2017 is considered one of the greatest painters of the Indian art scene.
His ability to create a perfect fusion between European technique and an Indian touch without going too heavy on either of the two styles is something artists and art critics still marvel at. After his style, it is Varma’s lithographs that are even still going strong, so much so, that in today’s time one cannot hope to get an original Raja Ravi Varma. According to certain sources, a Raja Ravi Varma original can go for as high as INR 30 cr or more.
It was these very lithographs that introduced the common people to the fine arts and the fact that Varma also made these lithographs affordable to the public really helped to raise his stature among the common people.
But He Was Also Called A Voyeur/Pervert For His Some Of His Paintings
While there is no denying that now we consider Ravi Varma as a great painter, however, the society of his time was not of the same mindset.
Varma faced a lot of criticism and social stigma for not just painting semi-nude paintings of women but he was also one of the first Indian artists to give a face to Gods and Goddesses.
Before that, Gods and Goddesses were not painted in such detail, however, Varma dared to go beyond the set thinking and now his paintings of Lakshmi, Sarasvati and more some of the most accepted and loved works of Indian divine figures.
His muse, Sugandha who was the one to pose nude for many of Varma’s paintings was also cause of many whispers among the society at that time, due to the controversial nature of the paintings.
Varma did not stop there though, a big reason why he got in so much trouble was due to him painting semi-nude paintings of mythical characters like Rambha and Urvashi which also got him charged at the Bombay High Court for hurting religious sentimentality and encouraging obscenity. But the case was not able to do any damage considering Varma ultimately won the case and still went on creating his art.
Could It Also Be Said He Was Simply Ahead Of His Times?
Even though Raja Ravi Varma was embroiled in many controversies over his short life, no one can argue with the fact that he as an artist completely changed the way people viewed Indian art.
The very fact that Varma continued creating his art even after getting so much social ostracization, is evidence of his courage and determination to provide his creations to the world.
His paintings might have dealt with controversial matters, but he was perhaps one of the first feminist painters of India if one looks at the way he made the female protagonist always stand out.
Even if one takes the paintings with male figures in them, it is always the female who takes center stage and catches the eye, and no she is not nude in all of his paintings.
Varma is also now applauded for capturing the royal court life and era in his paintings in a way no other artist could and in a rapidly changing time when people were forgetting what the courtly culture was.
Varma was also commended for his ability to keep a traditional touch to his paintings whilst keeping his aesthetic quite astonishingly modern. Which was not something many other artists were able to do easily.
Art observers also argue that what is art if it does not change something within you and Raja Ravi Varma’s art definitely seems to do that.
Thus it could be argued whether Varma was a pervert who just used his occupation as an artist to ogle at women or one could actually appreciate his artistic talents and recognise how daring and courageous he was in tackling tabooed subjects.
Image Credits: Google Images