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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  Art for the masses

Art for the masses

An NGMA exhibition showcases never-seen-before lithographs by Raja Ravi Varma

Birth Of Shakuntala by Raja Ravi VarmaPremium
Birth Of Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Varma


When Ganesh V. Shivaswamy bought his first lithograph—a work by Raja Ravi Varma—at the age of 13, he didn’t know it would turn into a lifelong passion.

Shivaswamy had developed an interest in art as a child, but expensive original paintings were beyond reach. Then he chanced upon the Raja Ravi Varma lithograph.

“It started as a collection, but soon turned into a rescue effort. Many people had discarded his (Varma’s) lithographs, and in some houses they were just gathering dust. Some had even thrown away the print and just kept the frame because they thought it was more precious," says Shivaswamy.

In the three decades since, Shivaswamy, now a lawyer, has collected 126 lithographs by the 19th century artist —lithographs are made by drawing the image of the original painting on stone and then mass-printing it, which makes it more affordable.

Most of the lithographs in Shivaswamy’s collection had been discarded, or were procured from scrap dealers. He purchased a few. The most he has paid for a lithograph is 25,000, for Vishwamitra’s Archery.

His entire collection is part of Raja Ravi Varma: Royal Lithography And Legacy, now on show at Bengaluru’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). The exhibition has been organized by The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation, a registered trust started last year by septuagenarian Bharani Thirunal Rukmini Bayi Varma, a sixth-generation descendant of the artist. Other than Shivaswamy’s 126 lithographs, the exhibition has four lithographs from the collection of Karwar-based lawyer Aniruddha Haldipurkar and one work owned by the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal, Karnataka.

The exhibition is divided into segments—Divinity, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Krishna, Mythology, Rajas And Rishis, and Damsels And Nymphs. Among the most striking works are Birth Of Shakuntala, which was the first print from the Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Press; Sita Swayambar, where Sita is depicted as a six-year-old child bride; and Sudhanva Prabhavati, which tells the story of Pandava warrior Sudhanva, who was ordered to join the Kurukshetra war but was held back by his wife, Prabhavati.

 All the lithographs in Shivaswamy’s collection are from the Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Press, which the artist started in Mumbai in 1894.

“Varma’s lithographs democratized art. Before that, his paintings could only be viewed and enjoyed by the royals. With lithographs, it finally became available to the common man," says Shivaswamy, who has curated the exhibition.

Shivaswamy’s favourite is Mischief Of Krishna. “You can see a young Krishna hiding behind his mother’s sari after having been caught tearing other women’s saris. He shows absolutely no remorse."

Shivaswamy believes the exhibition will create greater awareness among people about lithographs as a form of art. Each lithograph in the show has a detailed title card explaining the story behind it and its historical significance. “It’s part of our culture. It’s time we gave lithographs their due," says Shivaswamy.

Raja Ravi Varma: Royal Lithography And Legacy is on till 14 August (closed on Mondays and national holidays), 10am-5pm, at the NGMA, 49, Manikyavelu Mansion, Palace Road (22342338).

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Published: 21 Jul 2016, 09:28 PM IST
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