Deccan Chronicle

Artistry Beyond Canvas

Deccan Chronicle.| NEHA KIRPAL

Published on: August 9, 2023 | Updated on: August 9, 2023

Raja Ravi Varma's watches make art wearable

 Jaipur Watch Company unveiled a unique collection of 112 limited edition watches featuring 14 of Varma's rare oleographs.

Jaipur Watch Company unveiled a unique collection of 112 limited edition watches featuring 14 of Varma's rare oleographs.

In 1857, a nine-year-old boy in Kerala's Trivandrum district began painting elephants and horses on temple walls. His maid complained about him to his maternal uncle, Raja Raja Varma, one of the leading artists at the time, who was able to recognize the boy's talent and started guiding him. In 1868, Raja Ravi Varma was introduced to Theodore Jensen, a famous British artist who was visiting the Travancore State. Through observation, the boy quickly learned the art of mixing colours until he finally mastered it. The rest, as they say, is history.
"Raja Ravi Varma started painting in the European realism style, using Indian subjects and mythological characters, which was itself somewhat disruptive at the time," shared art curator and collector Sachin Kaluskar, who owns the largest collection of Raja Ravi Varma's oleographs.

Considered the most expensive portrait painter of his time, Varma began charging up to Rs 1,500 for each portrait. He went on to create several masterpieces and received patronage from numerous royal families, including those of Mysore, Baroda, and Udaipur. In the late 19th century, Varma established India's first lithographic press, leading to mass production of his popular paintings. Consequently, he became one of India’s greatest artists.
At a recent art-meets-luxury experience in the royal city of Jaipur, a bespoke collection of Raja Ravi Varma’s watches was launched for the first time. To commemorate the momentous occasion of Varma’s 175th birth anniversary this year, Jaipur Watch Company unveiled a unique collection of 112 limited edition watches featuring 14 of Varma’s rare oleographs. The collection celebrates the legacy and heritage of the country's first brand that introduced oil-on-canvas paintings to India.

Gaurav Mehta, Founder, and CEO of Jaipur Watch Company, conducted a survey to gauge how much Indians know about Varma's art. To his surprise, he discovered that almost 70% of the current generation was unaware of him and his work. "While we have often celebrated European artists from the West – the Italian Renaissance era, French Impressionism, and art movements like Surrealism – we have, unfortunately, forgotten the legacy of India’s first modernist," he stated. This realization prompted him to embark on this historic collaboration.

"Needless to say, compressing and printing Varma’s paintings on a small 25 mm watch dial was not an easy task. Instead of printing the design on the dial of the watch, we have printed it on the inside of the glass, which is a sapphire crystal. This provides more clarity and reduces distortion. To enhance the visibility of the painting even further, we have placed a plain white enamelled dial on the back", explained Mehta. Furthermore, the team was meticulous in preserving the paintings on the oleographs, along with their existing cracks and imperfections, exactly as they are to maintain their authenticity. For this purpose, a special machine was imported from Japan to replicate his oleographs on the watch face, capturing colours and tones akin to the original painting. It took seven months of dedicated work to perfect the process and create these watches, each priced at Rs 65,000.

The two-day experience explored Varma’s significant role in modern Indian society, his impact on India's jewellery and weaving traditions, and why his legacy stands among India's foremost tangible luxury heritages. The event was also attended by Rama Varma Thampuran, Varma’s sixth-generation descendant, who leads the family's Kilimanoor Palace Art Trust and initiated the Rama Varma Foundation for Art and Culture, along with its extension, the Raja Ravi Varma Temple of Art.

With a spirited welcome by Chenda Malam (traditional drummers) from Dwarka Kala Samithi, the event featured a classical performance by Rama Varma Thampuram, a renowned Carnatic musician, singer, and film score composer. It also included a Sadhya prepared by chefs from Kilimanoor Palace at Taj Jai Mahal Palace, an evening of a polo match and Rajasthani high tea, a historic tour of Jaipur’s City Palace highlighting its art and architecture, and a Rajasthani-themed dinner amidst the picturesque Aravalli range. During the event, Vinita Sharma, an artist from Kilimanoor Palace, added the finishing touches to one of Varma’s paintings.

"The Raja Ravi Varma Foundation plans to introduce other forms of merchandise. We also intend to continue promoting Indian art and culture through a new platform, the Ravi Varma Music and Art Festival," concluded Rama Varma Thampuran.

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