The story of Indian painting begins with the art of primitive man which has survived in rock shelters and caves in places like Hoshangabad, Mirzapur and Bhimbetka.
Stone Age paintings belonging to the Magdalenian phase (15,000 B.C.) have been discovered elsewhere. The chances are that the paintings in India do not go that far back. But it is accepted that the primitive intellect and vision can survive for long when communities are isolated.
Thus these paintings share the vivid realism of primitive art that has been discovered in many places like Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France.
The Indus epoch may have had extensive mural painting, for the painting on the pottery that has come down to us in abundance shows maturity and range, from vigorous realism through rhythmic stylization to strikingly expressive abstraction.
The earliest paintings of Ajanta date back to the first century B.C. and the latest to the eighth century. The spirit of the compassionate Buddha is their inspiration.
Perhaps Hinayana or early Buddhism did not understand that spirit correctly, for it remembered only the transience
of things, the pervasiveness of pain. Siddhartha rejected Nirvana for himself and was born again and again to help humanity in its travails, not only in many human roles, but as a deer, an elephant, a swan.
The Jataka tales elaborated the vicissitudes of these incarnations and the Ajantan artists painted them in sinuous line and sensitive colour. City, countryside and forest, men and women of every type, fauna and flora, all are mentioned in these murals.
Since the brush and the chisel accompanied the message of peace when Buddhism radiated to the rest of Asia, Ajanta became a fountainhead of Asian painting and murals with the clear stamp of its style.
In India itself the mural tradition continued, though with less momentum, in Chalukyan Badami (sixth century), Pallava Panamalai (seventh century), Pandyan Sittannavasal (ninth century), Chola Tanjore (twelfth century), Lepakshi of Vijayanagar (sixteenth century) and the murals of Kerala of various dates reaching to the middle of the nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, painting had come down from the extended mural surface to the miniature dimension of the manuscript, originally on palm-leaf, later on paper.
The miniatures of Pala period Bengal (tenth and eleventh centuries) conserve the sensuous line of Ajanta. But there is a rapid decline now and the line becomes brittle and angular.It is this style that spread to western India and is seen in numerous illuminated manuscripts.
In response to the lyricism of poems like the Vasanta Vilasa (Dalliance in Spring), in Bilhana’s Chaura Panchasika (Fifty Stanzas on Stolen Love) and Laur-Chanda (the Romance of Lorik and Chanda), line again becomes supple, colour lustrous. The Indian miniature stabilizes a fine pictorial style even before the advent of the Moghuls.
Though the imperial court of Akbar was headed by artists from Persia, Moghul painting is not a provincial school of Persian painting. The latter retreats into a paradisiacal world of romance, while Akbar recruited a very large number of Indian artists.
Each painting was most often a co-operative effort of Indian and Persian artists, one man doing the drawing, another the colouring, a third the details. The indigenisation received further momentum when Akbar commissioned the translation and illustration of Indian texts like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
It is mostly artists trained in the Moghul atelier who became the court painters of the Rajput princes. But while Moghul painting was elitist, reflecting imperial pomp and circumstance, Rajput painting presented in line and colour the great myths and legends of the land, the story of Rama, of Krishna, of the Bhagavata and the Gita Govinda. Of the many states in the plains of Rajasthan, two need special mention.
The style of Kotah painting anticipates by nearly eighty years the primitive vision and virility of European fauvists like Douanier Rousseau. That of Kishangarh painting manages the perfect pictorialisation of the poetry of the Radha-Krishna story.
In the small principalities of the Himalayan valleys set up by intrepid Rajput warriors from the plains, many centres came up of which Basohli is unique for its intensity of expression, Kulu for its closeness to the folk style and Kangra for both its romanticism and large output.
A decline followed the close of the Rajput phase. With the strong presence of the west in the British era, western academism became popular, mostly self-taught in the case of a pioneer like Ravi Varma, through institutional training in the case of others. The revivalist school, headed by Abanindranath Tagore, was nationalist in inspiration, but its pictorial achievement was weak and sentimental.
The four pioneers of modern painting in India are Gaganendranath Tagore who tried out every technique and style, Amrita Shergil who integrated the pictorial idiom of the west and an Indian vision, Jamini Roy who discovered the virility of the folk tradition and modulated it in many ways and Rabindranath Tagore who demanded for paintings music’s autonomy and independence from factuality and thus gave a charter for free variations on
naturalism, abstraction and expressionism.
Raja Ravi Varma - A Prince Among Painters and A Painter Among Princes
Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was born in Kilimanoor Palace as the son of Umamba Thampuratti and Neelakandan Bhattathiripad. At the age of seven years he started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. His uncle Raja Raja Varma noticed the talent of the child and gave preliminary lessons on painting. At the age of 14, Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja took him to Travancore Palace and he was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu. After 3 years Theodor Jenson, a British painter taught him oil painting.
Most of his paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. In 1873 he won the First Prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition. He became a world famous Indian painter after winning in 1873 Vienna Exhibition.
Here we have collected some of the Classic Paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. Images are 75 Kb to 150 Kb and may take a while to download. Click the thumbnail to enlarge.