Raja Ravi Varma: The Undisputed Master of Indian Art

Raja Ravi Varma: The Undisputed Master of Indian Art

Raja Ravi Varma is indisputably the most celebrated Indian artist amongst art lovers and collectors. He is not only counted amongst the greatest painters in the history of Indian art, but many art aficionados and patrons also revere him as the Godfather of Indian painting. When it comes to depicting the beauty of an Indian woman on a canvas, there is no artist who can match Raja Ravi Varma’s genius. He was no less than a magician, whose artworks casted spells. Such is the magic of his paintings that even the new generation of artists seems to be awestruck by the allure of his works. Today, his artworks are considered as national treasure.

Life of Ravi Varma

Ravi Varma Koil Thampuran a/k/a Ravi Varma was born to Ezhumavil Neelakanthan Bhattatiripad and Umayamba Thampurratti in 1848 at Travancore in Kerala. When he was seven years old, Ravi Varma started drawing on the walls of his residence, the Kilimanoor Palace. His parents observed his keen interest in drawing and soon realized his talent. They commissioned Rama Swami Naidu, the painter at the palace, to teach Ravi Varma the fundamentals of drawing and water coloring. Later in his life, he learnt the basics of oil painting from Theodor Jenson, a Dutch artist. His quest for learning took him to different parts of India including Mysore, Baroda, Madhura, and Tamil Nadu among others where he learned more about Indian art and paintings. His expeditions made him a learned man and a better artist.

At the age of 18, Ravi Varma married Pururuttathi Nal Bhageerathi Amma Thampuran, who belonged to the Royal Family of Mavelikkara. They were blessed with two sons and three daughters.

Ravi Varma underwent a systematic training, which refined and enhanced his skills, and transformed him into a fine artist. He was not only learned traditional Indian art, but he was also a trained in western style of painting. This empowered him to experiment with the two styles and thus, he created master pieces that were the perfect blend of European techniques and Indian sensibility.

Themes Explored 

If someone were to classify Ravi Varma either as traditional or modern artist, then he will fail miserably; for he is neither counted among traditional artists nor among modern artists. He is that link that bridges the gap between the traditional and modern Indian art style.

He drew inspirations from mythological stories and folklores, and mainly experimented with portraits, works based on portraits and works based on mythologies. Women and mythical characters are the frequent themes that we come to see in his paintings. He also depicted revered Hindu deities on his canvas. There is no doubt that his mythological paintings are more famous, but his portraits and works based on portraits make him a true genius. His paintings are embodiments of simplicity at best. He had an unsullied understanding of colors, which aided him create neat and sharp paintings. He had a peculiar knack for depicting human forms and expressions, which is quite evident in his paintings. During his active years, he created 170 paintings out of which 140 were oil paintings, 20 were oleographs and 10 were lithographs.

Major Exhibitions and Recognitions
Ravi Varma is considered to be the artist who introduced Indian art to the global arena. In 1873, he won a gold medal at an art exhibition that was held at Vienna. Back home, he won two consecutive gold medals at Madras Painting Exhibition for the year 1873 and 1874. In 1893, some of his works of art were sent to the prestigious World’s fair which was held in Chicago. He won two gold medals at the World’s fair. In 1904, reckoning his contribution in Indian art and achievements, Lord Curzon awarded him the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal.


The stature that he holds in the original Indian art world is unparalleled. Different galleries and museums across the length and breadth of the nation display most of his works of art. Some of his paintings are part of private collections. Art lovers can witness the grandeur of his paintings at Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara. Though, Ravi Varma died in the year 1906 due to acute diabetes, but his legacy continues.