Raja Ravi Varma Archival Museum

A pillar suporting the ceiling of Hungaracutta Bansaale ManeTHE Born in 1848 and died in 1906, Raja Ravi Varma, the celebrated Indian Painter, who hailed from Kerala, “created a niche for himself in the awakening of the modern and contemporary art movement in this country” by fusing the Indian art tradition with the techniques of European academic art. By accomplishing this task he indeed “created revolution in modern aesthetics”

Ravi Varma employed the western techniques of realism in colour, composition and perspective for depiction of Indian themes including devotional and mythological figures.

When Ravi Varma set up a Printing Press in Mumbai, which he later shifted to Malavli near Lonavala on Mumbai- Pune Road, to make colour reproductions of his works these became popular all over the country. As he adopted German printing technology in his Press and as also he engaged the services of German technicians for printing work, most important among them being Fritz Schleicher, it was possible for the Press to produce the best quality of colour prints that every Indian could afford to buy. Thus he became known at the national level as well as among the ordinary masses, as countless number of copies of oleographs of Hindu gods, deities and characters from the epics reached every Indian home.

Thus, Ravi Varma became a cult figure in India more because of the mass colour reproductions of his paintings which were displayed in every Indian home, shrine and public place to be enjoyed by people all the time, than for his original works. Thus, the process involved in making these oleographs and, more importantly, the physical properties and accessories including the machineries, litho stones with the impressions of the works of Ravi Varma and ink powder used for printing become at once important.

Realising the historical value of all these archival materials and their potential for educating the people, the Hasta Shilpa acquired all the materials and physical properties connected with the printing process in the Press from its owners with the object of setting up a Gallery in the name of this legendary artist who changed the face of the traditional Indian art and became a household name in the country.

The influence that Ravi Varma wielded on the subsequent generations of artists is quite evident, as a large number of artists in India followed on the foot-steps of this great master and started painting on the mythological themes and got their works printed mainly at Ravi Varma Press in Malavli. These colour prints too became immensely popular with the masses of the country.

The commercial world of the country grabbed this opportunity by cashing in on the popularity of portrayal of Hindu deities and mythological characters by using them for their calendars, posters, labels of consumer products, greeting cards, playing cards and even match-box labels. Most of these calendars, posters, labels and others were printed at Ravi Varma Press.

Thus, the Hasta Shilpa Trust acquired from the Ravi Varma press the colour reproductions of the works of not only Raja Ravi Varma but also of a large number of other Indian artists who were inspired by the paintings of Ravi Varma. Besides, calendars , labels of consumer products, posters, playing cards and match-box labels were acquired from this Malavli-based Press. These printed materials along with other physical properties like machineries used for printing process, litho stones with the impressions of the works of Ravi Varma, packets of special colour ink powder made in Germany for reproduction – all acquired from this Press by the Hasta Shilpa – constituted an important body of archival materials. These materials and physical properties have been judiciously displayed in the Gallery of Cultural Legacy of Raja Ravi Varma in the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village at Manipal.

The museum, which shows some of Vafrma's impressions along with litho stones at the bottom along with the printing machines.

The Made in Germany printing machine and other accessories used to make prints of Raja Ravi Varm's works.

The original paints and coloured powders used in making the prints. Below: Some of Varma's paintings along with litho stones. Click on picture to enlarge and close new window that opens to return to this page.

A few of Varm's collections.