03 December, 2020

Man At The Art Market

Colonial India’s pre-eminent image-maker led a chequered life and experimented ceaselessly

Man At The Art Market

The lives of leading Indian artists coloured by commercial success, the cult of celebrity and often mired in controversy are assumed to be a late 20th century phenomenon but, in fact, the story of Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was every bit as ambitious and beguiling. Varma is sometimes called the first Indian “modernist”—a difficult term, for although it just may be possible to squeeze his life span into the period—the label applies for his use of Western art techniques and materials to Indian subjects and their wide dissemination to audiences throughout the country.

Varma’s sensual, full-bodied heroines, his penetrating portraits of royal patrons and stirring mythological figures are as recognisable today as M.F. Husain’s strokes and, in that sense, he was India’s first celebrity painter. His alluring beauties, reconstructed by contemporary photo-artists such as Pushpamala N. or reproduced in bawdy calendar art, make him the Father of the Wet Sari Look. (A freeze frame of Kareena Kapoor’s...



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