Discovery of the five figures in Ravi Varma’s first painting commissioned by DAG

Contemporary painter Raja Ravi Varma first painting commissioned by Kizhakke Palat Krishna Menon & Family

The first commissioned painting by the modernist painter Raja Ravi Varma, Kizhakke Palat Krishna Menon and family
| Image source: Delhi Art Gallery

in an intimate space Delhi Art Gallery (DAG)Inside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba, a historical painting has shone the spotlight. It is a family portrait done by India’s first modern painter, Raja Ravi Varma. Landscape oil painting on canvas, depicting a man, woman and their three children.

It is dated to Calicut in 1870, and a family the painter met while traveling home from the temple town of Mucambeka. Ravi Varma has rarely included up to five people in a single image when painting a portrait. In the composition, the eldest member (seated right) is Kizhakke Palat Krishna Menon, a minor magistrate in Mangalore. On the other side is his wife, Palat Induooly Amma. The eldest son, who is behind his parents, is KP Krishna Menon, who has become a lawyer in Madras. The boy next to him is his brother Raman, who later becomes Rt. presence. Raman Menon, one of the founders of the Kerala Congress Party. The girl on her mother’s lap is the future Lady Shankaran Nair, wife of Sir Chittoor Shankaran Nair, Defender-General of Madras, Privy Councilor of the United Kingdom and President of the Indian National Congress.

Portrait of Raja Ravi Varma

Personal Portrait of Raja Ravi Varma | Image source: The Hindu Archives

The figures of the subjects, though deliberately forceful, are visible to the intended eye: the couple appear confident, the son in the back appears inquisitive, the son in the foreground appears tense, and the daughter has a flicker of curiosity and mischief. eyes. It is a photographic plate. Pharma’s brushwork makes her breathe through the intricate, resplendent details – hair, jewelry, bananas two children holding in their hands, the tip of a wooden cane hanging tightly on a man’s wrist, flowers adorning a woman’s hair, down to the shimmering, pale gold embroidery on the sheer fabric slung from the man’s shoulder. . This attention to detail is the essence of Ravi Varma.

The historicity of the painting lies there, but also for another, larger reason. This is the artist’s first painting – the beginning of his career. Before that, he had patrons from royal families and aristocrats. He was himself an aristocrat, and to accept money for a painting was considered blasphemous in that century of artistic practice. Kishore Singh, curator of Delhi Art Gallery says, “It is quite possibly the first painting by an Indian artist. To some extent, the entire career path of Ravi Varma, which has made his artistic legacy in his country and abroad, starts from this point.”

Titled work Kizhakke Palat Krishna Menon and family, part of this year’s Mumbai gallery weekend (January 12-15), which includes 15 shows of modern and contemporary works by artists such as Atul Dudia (Chimold Prescott), Abnavi Makanji (Tark), Smita Kinkal, Rajesh Wangadi (Tao) and Nancy Adajania (Anupa). Mehta Arts Advisory). The painting is shown to the public for the first time.

Drawing from iconic Indian cinema, Atul Dudia creates paintings populated by iconic characters in his signature realistic style.  in Kimold Prescott.

Drawing from iconic Indian cinema, Atul Dudia creates paintings populated by iconic characters in his signature realistic style. in Kimold Prescott.

It is also one of several works by modernists that DAG will be showing in a group show in February in the Delhi space – all works with specific histories and contexts, making them stand out in the work of featured artists, as well as in the history of modern Indian art. It is expected that the love story of the artist, MF Hussein, will also unfold in one of his rare works from the sixties.

The author is a writer and critic based in Mumbai.

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