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Portland State University

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

India: National Identity and the Arts


This paper will examine the aesthetic qualities that Raja Ravi Varma helped to introduce to mythological paintings and then to popular devotional prints with the Ravi Varma Press, as well as the influence of the aesthetic to other areas of visual culture in India. Prior to the 1993 retrospective exhibition in New Delhi on Raja Ravi Varma, little was known about his impact on the calendar prints of today. By tracing the rise of academic realism in late 19th and early 20th century India and Ravi Varma’s role within it, I gained a clearer understanding of the degree to which one man can impact an entire nation’s visual culture. There are conflicting opinions on exactly how much he is responsible for the innovations that led to the modernist movement in India, but my study concluded that popular prints are too imperative to visual culture in India to exclude from aesthetic and historical analysis.

Much of my work was done through gathering print sources, but I travelled to Ravi Varma’s home state of Kerala to visit his original oil paintings at the Sri Chatra Art Gallery. I also stayed in Madurai to observe the culture surrounding popular prints in urban settings, such as roadside chai and snack stalls. This study supports a growing academic interest in examining popular art’s place in the ever-developing definition art history.


Art and Design | Arts and Humanities | Asian Art and Architecture | Asian Studies | Fine Arts | Graphic Design


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