Raja Ravi Varma’s NFTs to go on auction

Ruhi Gilder
The work of one of the most revered names in Indian art history goes digital this February. Physical and digital art marketplace RtistiQ is set to launch the first NFTs of artist Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings The Coquette and Reclining Nair Lady. The estimated value for each of these unique NFTs is set to be between US$320,000 to US$370,000. The sale also includes NFTs of lithographs, photographs of Kilimanoor Palace, the birthplace of Raja Ravi Varma.
NFTs have been becoming increasingly common in the Indian art world. Even auction house Prinseps held a ‘Gobardhan Ash Live Auction,’ consisting of 35 contemporary NFTs based on Ash’s work. Held in January 2022, NFT sales at this auction clocked in at ₹8,33,750. FDCI x Lakmé Fashion Week has also been dropping fashion NFTs in collaboration with designers like Manish Malhotra, Anamika Khanna and Raghavendra Rathore. NFT versions of legendary artist Raja Ravi Varma then come as a welcome addition to the digital sphere.
Saraswati lithograph
Saraswati lithograph
Organised by Gallery G and the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation, the auction is to be held from February 17-20, and payment will be accepted in the form of credit card and cryptocurrency. Raja Ravi Varma’s original works are considered National Treasures and cannot be exported out of India. Therefore, these digital artworks give Asian art collector communities and investors around the world a chance to call a Ravi Varma their own, to lay claim to a part of Indian heritage. According to his great great granddaughter, this is something Ravi Varma would have been proud of, “To Ravi Varma, art had no boundaries- not by geography and certainly not by class. Till today, his keen ability to document daily life continues to captivate art enthusiasts and his paintings can be found in some of the most notable art collections and museums around the world,” says artist Rukmini Varma, Chairperson of the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation. During Raja Ravi Varma’s time, in the late 1800s, a single piece of modern art was coveted. However, Ravi Varma transformed the industry by creating lithograph versions of his paintings. He established a press to make reproductions of his works, thus making art more accessible, which enhanced his reach and influence as a painter and public figure.
Lakshmi lithograph
Lakshmi lithograph
However, his originals have always fetched fabulous prices at auction, Ravi Varma’s Radha in the Moonlight (1890) sold at auction house Pundole’s in the past for ₹23 crore.
Radha in the Moonlight
Radha in the Moonlight, Photo Courtesy: Pundole’s
The Coquette (1893)
The Coquette - RtistiQ- Raja Ravi Varma - Painting
The Coquette – RtistiQ- Raja Ravi Varma – Painting
Known as the “Father of Modern Indian Art,” Ravi Varma’s works fuse European academic art with purely Indian sensibilities and iconography. This popular painting, The Coquette is currently part of a private collection and is currently valued at US$3.2 million. A recreation of this artwork was previously sold at Sotheby’s for US$100,000. This exquisite painting of a woman holding a gooseberry is possibly the artist’s way of indicating her pregnant state. It is one of two such similar works created by Ravi Varma. The artist often painted duplicates of his work, due to the demand of patrons and collectors. While it is not always obvious which version of a painting is made first, due to the detailing and the careful brushstrokes, The Coquette is often deemed to be the predecessor of the nearly identical work, Lady with a Fruit. The latter is housed at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.
Reclining Nair Lady (1902)
Reclining Nair Lady - RtistiQ- Raja Ravi Varma - Painting (2) (1) (1)
Reclining Nair Lady – RtistiQ- Raja Ravi Varma – Painting
Hailing from an aristocratic family in Travancore, Ravi Varma often captured the daily life of women from noble and royal families in his paintings. Reclining Nair Lady depicts a fair-skinned Nair lady wearing spotless Kerala cotton reading a book and relaxing while her dark-skinned maid has in hand a palm-leaf fan to cool her down. It also highlights the contrast of class in Indian society at the time. Painted in 1902, the posture and positioning of the Reclining Nair Lady is reminiscent of French artist Eduardo Manet’s ‘Olympia.’ This inspiration probably came from Ravi Varma’s collection of foreign art books purchased from shops in Bombay and Madras. The artist spent a considerable time studying them and kept the imagery, but altered the impressionistic style of the painting to suit local sentiments. It is currently valued at US$3.7 million.
Olympia, Photo Courtesy: Musée d'Orsay
Olympia, Photo Courtesy: Musée d’Orsay
“The introduction of Raja Ravi Varma’s works into the metaverse will no doubt spark a new movement within both the art collector and crypto communities. It is time that we explore the possibilities of tokenising national treasures and fostering greater collaborations between various players in the arts scene to ensure the vitality of the industry,” said Jothi Menon, CEO and Founder of RtistiQ.
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