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RAJA RAVI VARMA (1848 - 1906)
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR Ravi Varma was the first Indian artist to adapt Western Academic painting styles to a local Indian context. He did not have any formal training, but closely observed the European artists working at the Travancore court. He familiarized himself with the concepts of Realism and Naturalism and mastered the use of oil paint to create a three-dimensional world on a flat canvas. While Ravi Varma's techniques were reliant upon Western painting traditions, his choice of subjects remained firmly rooted in Indian life. Indian mythology proved to be a wonderful source to explore his new technique as it provided a wide variety of pictorial settings and forms.
RAJA RAVI VARMA (1848 - 1906)

Court Scene

Details
RAJA RAVI VARMA (1848 - 1906)
Court Scene
Signed 'Ravi Varma' lower right
Oil on canvas
69 x 50 in. (175.3 x 127 cm.)

Lot Essay

Ravi Varma toured North India extensively, especially to collect details on the various costumes and clothing styles specific to the region. His visits to Lahore and Rawalpindi have been recorded in particular. He noted that by around 1893, tastes had changed, and traditional Hindu dressing styles had been exchanged in favor of more Muslim fashions. This particular work shows a seated princess listening to a musician playing the sarangi, a string instrument then used in Northwest India. A female attendant stands behind her with a fan and an older man sits beside her listening attentively. He is dressed in a jama, a long robe with distinctively Kashmiri embroidery on the sleeves and the edges. The princess' choice of dress and the style of her bochhan (draped cloth) are also typical of the Northwest region. Through a wonderful use of light and shadow, Ravi Varma effectively communicates the different textures and surfaces in the picture, the lush velvet of the princess' chair, the thin, muslin fabric of the musician's kurta and the crispness of the princess' odhni with its shot-gold threads glinting in the light.

The thick curtain in the background is a frequently used pictorial device in Ravi Varma's works, as he was influenced by Parsi, and by extension, Victorian theatre. His palace interiors often resembled stage backdrops, where the drapery painted with architectural detailing allowed "a heightened effect which enhanced the dramatic impact of his works" and the "illusionistic realism allowed for a greater identification with the painted scene." (Yashodhara Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art, The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p. 20.)
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