Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) - A Prince Among Painters and A Painter Among Princes
Born on April 29, 1848, in Kilimanoor, a small hamlet in the southern state of Kerala, as the son of Uma Amba Bai Thampuratti and Ezhumavil Neelakandan Bhattathiripad, Ravi Varma belonged to a family of scholars, poets and artists. Born to a learned Brahmin father and a Kshatriya mother who was an accomplished poet – Ravi Varma was one of four siblings – three boys and a girl – and grew up in a matrilineal household, which afforded him a close, yet distant, view of women. Noted in his family were, among others, Vidwan Koil Tampuran, author of the famous Kathakali work Ravana Vijayam, Raja Raja Varma, who painted after the Tanjore style, and Uma Amba Bai Tampuratty, who, composed Parvati Swayamvaram, a work for the Tullal dance. His orthodox and classical education, usual for children of his background, gave him an understanding and appreciation of Malayalam, Sanskrit, astrology, Ayurvedic medicine, architecture, drawing, painting, music and classical literature. At the age of seven years only, he filled the walls of his home with pictures of animals, acts and scenes from his daily life, which though irked the domestics, were noted by his uncle, Raja Raja Varma as the signs of a blossoming genius and he gave him preliminary lessons on painting. At the age of 14, in 1862 Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja took him to Travancore Palace and he was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu. British artist, Theodor Jenson visited palace in 1868 and Ravi Varma learned oil painting under him. It was in 1870 he travelled to Mookambi and when coming back did first painting for money, 'Kizhakke Palatt Krishna Menon and Family'.
Most of his oil paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. In 1873, he won the First Prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition, all of which gave him gold prizes, certificates and fame. He became a world famous Indian painter...