On April 29, 1848, in a small estate in Travancore, was born a boy destined to become more famous than the ruler of his kingdom. His uncle, noticing his precocious talent at art, took the teenager to the royal court at the invitation of the king to learn painting there. Ravi Varma’s debut was to come seven years later when a Danish painter arrived in court to paint the Maharaja and his wife. The twenty-year-old boldly upstaged the experienced artist, presenting the king with a more flattering painting of the royal couple at the same time as the official portrait was unveiled. Jensen, the painter, never forgave Ravi Varma, but for the young man there was no looking back. His reputation grew with each painting. For the first time, an Indian artist was using the realism and sensuality of the European oil painters and applying them to not just ordinary Indians, but to the deities as well. The artist-prince became India’s first celebrity painter. The lines to see his exhibition of mythological paintings in Bombay in 1890—the first public showing by any Indian artist—were endless; the prices he commanded were astronomical; then, when he started his own printing press, producing oleographs of his work, Raja Ravi Varma became a household name. Soon, every home had a Ravi Varma print. For the first time, comes a beautifully told, gripping account of Ravi Varma: the man who was the darling of the royal courts, but who hardly gave his own wife and children any time; the nobleman who took the revolutionary step of being an artist, yet who insisted on using the false title of raja; and the idealistic entrepreneur who bankrupted himself running a printing press, yet whose dream of bringing art to the masses became a reality. Blending fact with imagination, writing with wit and lyricism, Deepanjana Pal takes you into the life of an extraordinary man and brings him vividly alive.
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