Ravi Varma was born in Kilimanoor, in what was the Kingdom of Travancore, now named Kerala, on the Malabar coast, India, on April 1848. He received the title Maha Raja Rajya Shri because he was part of a noble class of southern India. The artist was born in an aristocratic family that worked for the Travancore royal family for over two-hundred years. The Travancore family is of matrilineal heritage, meaning the kinship is passed through female offsprings. Along with his brother, Varma would become a great Academic artist, painting in a Realist style. Varma’s father was a scholar who studied the art of ancient medicine called Ayurveda, as well as the ancient writings of Sanskrit. His mother was a writer and poet, and after her death, the artist was able to publish one of her works, named Parvati Swayamvaram. Following the Hindu tradition, Varma’s parents arranged his marriage according to the family they chose, to keep the Royal lineage. At 18 years old, Varma was married to Pooruruttati Nal Bhageerathi Bayi Thampuratty who was only 12 years old. The couple had a beautiful wedding following the Hindu tradition and would eventually have three daughters and two sons - all of Royal blood. One of their sons, the youngest, studied to become a painter at the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai. The Travancore royal family that exists today are all descendent from the Varma himself.
The artist began his formal training in the Kingdom of Travancore, where Ayliyam Thirunal became his patron - meaning he had a prestigious start, as Thirunal was the next Maharajah, meaning the next ruler of the Kingdom. Later, Varma left for one of the largest cities of India, Madurai, to deepen his studies on painting. The artist learned under great names like Theodor Jensen, a Dutch portrait painter who guided him with oil painting, as well as Rama Swami Naidu with watercolors. With the help of Edgar Thurston and his administration work, Varma and his brother had successful careers in the market. In 1873, the painter was critically acclaimed for his artworks exhibited in Vienna and was even awarded. By 1893, Varma’s paintings were heading overseas to Chicago, where he won three gold medals at the World’s Columbian Exposition. As an Academic painter, Varma’s Realist work has impeccable technique, but his subjects did not include the typical characters from Greek mythology or biblical scenes, focusing on his own culture instead. His artwork is colorful and vibrant, depicting Hindu Goddesses, like Goddess Saraswathi, and the beautiful women of southern India, as seen in The Maharashtrian Lady and Young Woman With A Veena.
The way Varma merged Realism style of painting, using teachings derived from European schools, along with his sensibility for his culture and faith, makes his artwork unique and amongst the best history paintings of India. Along with becoming a master as several painting techniques, Varma was also a successful printmaker. He worked with chromo-lithography, a method that uses blocks of stone that allows printing in many colors and a large number of copies, like in the artwork Goddess Lakshmi. This spread his masterpieces around Europe and increased his popularity, especially amongst people who didn’t necessarily have direct contact with art, as well as bringing the Hindu culture to light. The outstanding Indian artist passed away at 58 years old, while in Attingal, Travancore.