Raja Ravi Varma:
Painter of Colonial India
mapin n Rs 3,500 n pp 360
In this sumptuous feast of a book, one of India’s finest art conservators, Rupika Chawla, takes out all her scholastic implements to bring us a sprawling investigation of the works of 19th century artist Raja Ravi Varma. She firmly puts him in the context of his times and influences, bringing us closer to Ravi Varma’s vast oeuvre. In the process, Chawla adds layers to viewing his works that have so far been narrowly seen as only kitsch or limited as ingredients for a future nation-building exercise. Chawla locates Ravi Varma in the productive world of salon art shaped by Victorian aesthetics but in the very localised template of India.
Apart from charting out his life and detailing his artistic trajectory, Chawla also constantly takes the scholarly narrative sideways, bringing us the influences that affected Ravi Varma’s style and aesthetics, as well as those that artists after him and the popular cultural media used.
It’s a textual-visual exploration in the form of re-viewing Raja Ravi Varma and his veritable universe of mythologies that were based on people who inhabited our real world.