Friday, September 19, 2008

Raja Ravi Varma’s most expensive painting.

Raja Ravi Varma (The Kaiser -I- Hind medal granted in 1904 could be seen)

In October 2007, Bonhams, the UK auctioneers auctioned off a wonderful oil on canvas done by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906). Though estimated to fetch around £50,000 to 70,000, its bidding ended only at £602400, the equivalent of Indian rupees 5 crores.

It was bought by Neville Tulli, Chairman of Osians, an auction house in Mumbai.

The painting was titled “The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Governor-General of Madras (1875-80), on his official visit to Trivandrum in 1880”.

The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming
Richard Temple-Grenville, at Trivandrum in 1880

The painting depicts the welcoming party at Trivandrum, for the 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Richard Temple-Grenville, who was Governor-General of Madras from 1875 to 1880. Accompanied by his aide-de-camp and British army officers, he is seen received by Visakham Tirunal, the younger brother of the Maharaja of Travancore, who was to succeed his brother in May 1880. The Maharaja, Ayilayam Tirunal (ruled between 1860 and 1880), is seen standing behind him. The building behind them bears the conch shell, the symbol of the state of Travancore, as well as a welcoming message for the Duke. A figure in white could be seen looking out at the spectator from amongst the group of noblemen framed by the window to the left of the Maharaja. It seems likely that this is Ravi Varma himself, alluding to the practice of painters from the Renaissance onwards of inserting themselves into the action.

Ravi Varma was often invited to state occasions by British high officials and the Indian nobility, often recording their activities on his canvases, notably the investiture ceremony of the Gaekwad of Baroda in 1881, and the elephant kheda operation in Mysore on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1906, the year of Ravi Varma's death.

This scene of the reception of the Duke of Buckingham in Travancore would probably have been completed by Ravi Varma and his brother Raja Raja Varma subsequently and presented to the Duke in 1881.

Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos

Richard Plantagenet Campbell Temple, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (1823-1889) was the Governor of Madras between 1875 -80. After having his education at Eton and later at Oxford, he joined the army and rose in cadre to become a Colonel. Subsequently he became a conservative MP in the British parliament.

He held various important government assignments and in 1867 was appointed the Secretary of State for the Colonies. When Disraeli returned to office in 1874, the Duke was appointed Governor-General of Madras and arrived in India in 1875. As the Governor of Madras , he was created a Knight Grand Commander of the Star of India. The Buckingham Canal, a 420 km long salt water navigation canal, running from Vijayawada to Villupuram District is named after his honour.

In 1880 he returned to England, and became Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords, in 1886.

Richard Temple-Grenville inherited the Stowe estate in Buckinghamshire from his father, the 2nd Duke, who had died bankrupt. While returning to England, he reportedly had carried with him two paintings by Ravi Varma viz. Shakuntala Patralikhan and ‘Hindoo Woman', and a third unattributed painting titled 'The Maharajah of Travencore' . Buckingham had bought Varma's painting, Shakuntala Patralikhan (Shakuntala's Love Epistle to Dushyanta, inspired by Kalidasa's epic poem), which was entered at the Madras Fine Arts Exhibition in 1876. He had sat for his official portrait by Varma in 1878, a portrait commissioned by the British administration for Government House in Madras.

The duke died in 1889 without any male heir. As per the English custom, since he died without any male issues, the Dukedom of Buckingham and Chandos became extinct.

(Note: Similar to the Nampoothiri households of yore in Kerala where the eldest son only married from the same community and inherited the property, among the aristocratic British, the inheritance of Lordship was only through the eldest son. Most men coming to India were second sons or the children of second sons or clergymen, who would not inherit family property there, or whose parents couldn't afford to set them up in Britain.)

Twenty five years back, during our honey-moon days while visiting some of our relatives spread far and wide in Kerala, I and my wife Sindhu, stayed at Mavalikkara with Ravi Varma a cousin who was related to the great artist and who had in his possession an original sketch book of Raja Ravi Varma. I remember having gone through this rare book with a lot of curiosity. It was a note book with full of pencil sketches done by the illustrious master. I wonder where that book could be now!

Dubai, 19th September 2008.


Maddy said...

know what - if you go to guruvayoor, you will find everybody has ravvarma prints for sale, including teh wrongly attributed lady with the lamp!! all printed off downloaded net images!

Abraham Tharakan said...

Murali, this is great.

Abraham Tharakan said...

In continuation, I think the location depicted in the painting is Chakka Landing.

Manoj Easwaran Potti said...

Hi Murali chettan,

Nice post. BTW do you know why the hyper-links on those last two images in this post do not work for me? I was trying to see if there is a bigger version of those pictures.

Thanks, Manoj

Manu said...

Hello sir. Its brilliant the amount of info you know and have collected. I myself have a great interest in history, Travancore history in patrticular. Old stories of Kavus and Amabalams, old Tharavads, Kovilakams all hold a great fancy for me. Reading through your blog was an absolute treat. Regards.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear AT Sir,

Thanks, indeed. It is interesting to know that the location depicted in the painting could be "'Chakka Landing".

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Maddy,

Your observation is interesting.There is alround commercialism without any taste for the real.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Manoj,


Please try the following link for some close-ups of this wonderful painting.


Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Manu,

Thanks for your comment. It is indeed heartening to know and meet people who share some common interest about exotic subjects. Be in touch.


Pottysar said...

Hai Muali, best wishes.

sidharth said...

sir its a great paintings, raja ram varma is one of the great artist in india.really his historical basis paintings is a history of india.i am also a painter and i am trying to make painting like him.but i think 'am i sell my paintings in a good price or not','what should i have to do for selling my paintings in a good price','making paintings and selling it is good proffection or not' i don't know . please reply me sir.......

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Sidharth,

You need to continue painting and must find your own style. Try to organize an exhibition of your paintings in your own locality so that people can appreciate your art. Such appreciations will bring more attention to you as an artist which ultimately paves way for your success. Money is only incidental and it should not be your purpose ;then only great art will be born.