Raja of Art

About Us


AIM: To make RAJA RAVI VARMA of KILIMANOOR‘S contribution to India’s art and culture known to India and world again and to reintroduce beauty and Traditional Art form of India.

Present scene: Ravi Varma is famous for 2 historical achievements in the field of art in India.

  1. Creating India’s first oil paintings on canvas in the European style with Indian themes ,
  2. Created mass production of art prints known as Oleographs copied from his mythological based topics, which ultimately started India’s calendar art

Ravi Varma’s paintings whose number is not exactly documented but could be more than 500 nos. are most expensive piece of art and are owned by art collectors and museums all over India. Maximum numbers are owned by 3 palace museums namely Trivendrum , Mysore and Baroda. These account for about 150 nos. of his paintings.

His birth place Kilimanoor palace was possessing 75 nos. original paintings which were given to Trivendrum Chitra art gallery and now has none. Balance 400 or more original paintings are now owned by many individuals.

While Ravi Varma became famous among elite kings and British rulers of India for his oil paintings, his popularity among India’s common man was through his Oleographs.

These Oleographs were printed in thousands by presses associated with is name for very large numbers of mythological characters depicted in his many paintings and nearly flooded India’s houses and business places small or large. Mainly due to mythological characters in his Oleographs many of which were popular Gods and Goddesses respected in most Hindu public, these found places all over India and have survived still due to respect they received as images of Gods.

Only not more than 100 -150 oleographs are attributed to be based on Ravi Varma’s original paintings which were also signed by him, much larger number of these Oleographs were printed by presses based on other artists paintings later on and are also not now classified to exact numbers, but are estimated to be more than 1000 different topics.These Oleographs whether based on Ravi varma’s paintings or other artists later on, who used his presses for printing them, were all became known as Ravi Varma Oleographs and were a major contributor to India’s art ,social, culture as well as political scene of that time.

Many of these Oleographs have survived due to their religious connection to popular Gods and Goddesses even though these were printed on more fragile medium of paper which got easily damaged by harsh Indian climate. These surviving prints provide even now a very rich source of Art, social and cultural history of India from 1894 to 1930s

The legacy of Ravi Varma’s contribution to Indian art and culture scene is based on these 2 completely different form of Art both of which he initiated in India as originator.

Before Ravi Varma there was no artist whose name became known for art, even though there were famous art form like miniature art by unknown artists , and before his lithographic presses there was no other commercial press for colour prints.

Even with above mentioned pioneering contribution to India’s art, society and culture Ravi Varma name is getting forgotten because of following :

  1. After his death in 1906, many other artists continued to practice similar art form of realism and contributed to build into Indian Popular Art in the form of Calendar art. Artists who became known for this were Dhurandhar, Tagore, Vasudeo Pandya, Sharma Brothers of Nathdwara, Thakore of Dakore, and many other artist who contributed to the publication of calendars from SS Brijbasi, Chitrashala Press Pune etc. All these Popular art form created a new field of mass production of art which could be accessed by common person and ultimately brought Gods and Goddesses in every home and created impact on Hindu religion spread as well which lasted well from 1910 to till today. This art form slowly degenerated into copy based art with the advent of modern computer and printing technology.
  2. However all these calendars created by many modern presses and unknown artists are still a factor in popular art field and is competing with any other art form like modern art form and keeps the Popular art based on Realism alive, and not allowing Modern Art to get into common man’s home place of Puja which still keeps occupied by the Gods images initiated by Ravi Varma even though now modified and revised by unknown artists.
  3. The advent of Modern Art form which got initiated into Indian art scene also due to effect of western art and also due to its ease in drawing it and variety of topics and mediums of creation has stuck a blow to traditional realistic art form originated in west and introduce into India by Ravi Varrma.
  4. Slow but steadily appreciation and valuation of art form has shifted to Modern Art form, both in education, promotion through exhibitions and publications etc. Now there are no realistic artist any more who are anywhere as famous as Ravi Varma and whose art creations are in common home and work places as the Popular Art form of yesteryears.
  5. Due to very high brand name of Ravi Varma his original paintings are still priced very high and their appreciation in art market continues to be upwards equal to or more than most Modern Artists creations, the owners of these original oil paintings by him are proud of their possession, but are rarely interested to build into the importance of the name raja Ravi the original artist of India and his contributions to art of India.
  6. These owners of original paintings whether individuals owning one or two paintings or various Palace Museums owning many numbers of his paintings rarely educate people into the complete personality and total contribution of Ravi Varma in the form of hundreds of paintings created by him and thousands of Oleographs printed from his presses.
  7. These art collectors are too happy to keep their own treasures with them and are neither aware of others similar collection nor make others of the availability of more paintings from Ravi Varma.
  8. Thus in absence of totality of information about Ravi Varma’s creations we are never able to realise the real importance of his contributions Indian art, culture and social life of India.
  9. Due to above, common man and even educated youth of today is unable to know much about Ravi Varma of Kilimanoor and cannot recognise an antique oleograph printed by his press 100 years ago and being worshipped in place of puja in his house or work place purchased and placed there by his grandfather or father and readily throws it into rubbish bin when it changes colour or gets out of place on a new home, even though these antique prints still command very high price when it is still recognised by art lover.

Memorandum for implementing a Project for the Revival of the name and art works of Raja Ravi Varma, the Father of Modern Indian Art and Indian Calendar Art.

Kilimanoor Palace Trust with the support of Baroda Heritage Art Gallery of Baroda are undertaking a major initiative for establishing a central Archive of entire Life, Paintings, Lithographs , Oleographs, Presses, Publications, Documentries, Movies etc. along with any other documents related to Raja Ravi Varma at Kilimanoor Palace for educational purpose aimed for public at large.

The archive will be created with the help of soft and hard copies of his art works, books and publications, documentaries, movies from all possible sources. Entire archive will be put on a new website for easy access by all from any where with the help of internet. Hard copies of the archive will be collected and kept in a special library assessable for all for education and research on the life and art works of Raja Ravi Varma.

Entire archive will also be converted in CD format a soft copy, which will be distributed to all educational institutes, universities and Museums for educational purpose. Initial efforts will be made to prepare a comprehensive educational course material for 3 -6 months for better appreciation of Ravi Varma art style which will be started in all such universities which are already having Lithography as teaching subject in their course of Fine Arts.

Similar special presentation program will be created for installing at all Museums which are showing original paintings of Raja Ravi Varma from their collection. Many other activities will be undertaken jointly by both above parties with the sole aim to showcase the entire art works created in his life time so that the real contribution of Raja Ravi Varma to the art and culture of India could be realised by all Indians, who are slowly forgetting impact of his art form on our life.

A detail project blue print is also attached with the MOU, which will guide us together in implementing the project.

Baroda Heritage Art Gallery agrees to finance the initial set up of website, soft and hard copies of all known Paintings, Lithographs and Oleographs, books and publications on Ravi Varma’s life and art works at Kilimanoor Palace. Efforts will be made to get the all India educational project on Raja Ravi Varma approval and support from Kerala Govt. many departments like Tourism, Education and Cultural and to invite financial contribution from all possible Govt. departments and other supporting organisations for implementing the all India educational program detailed in the attached Blueprint.