Raja Ravi Varma (India, 1848-1906) The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Governor-General of Madras (1875-80), on his official visit to Trivandrum in 1880
Lot 500
Raja Ravi Varma (India, 1848-1906) The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Governor-General of Madras (1875-80), on his official visit to Trivandrum in 1880
Sold for £602,400 (US$ 975,590) inc. premium

Lot Details
Ravi Varma. Welcome Duke of Buckingham and Chandos Ravi Varma. Welcome Duke of Buckingham and Chandos Ravi Varma. Welcome Duke of Buckingham and Chandos Ravi Varma. Welcome Duke of Buckingham and Chandos
Raja Ravi Varma (India, 1848-1906)
The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Governor-General of Madras (1875-80), on his official visit to Trivandrum in 1880
oil on canvas, inscribed on the reverse in a contemporary hand Ravi Vurma Coil Tampooran, January 1881, framed
106 x 146 cm.

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (1823-1889).
    Baroness Kinloss, the Duke's daughter (who owned part of the Stowe estate in 1894).
    Perhaps given to a local solicitor and town clerk by Baroness Kinloss; otherwise given to Buckinghamshire County Council directly.
    Castle House, Buckingham, the offices of Buckinghamshire County Council, from the 1920s until 1974.
    Private UK collection from 1974 when Castle House was bought by the present owner of the picture.

    The subject:

    The painting depicts the welcoming party at Trivandrum, capital of Travancore (a princely state in southern India) for the 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Richard Temple-Grenville, who was Governor-General of Madras from 1875 to 1880. Accompanied by his aide-de-camp and British army officers, he is received here by Visakham Tirunal, the younger brother of the Maharaja of Travancore, who was to succeed his brother in May 1880. Governors normally toured during the cold weather, visiting the Indian princes, and hence the event can be dated to the months before May 1880. The Maharaja, Ayilayam Tirunal (reg. 1860-1880), stands behind him. The building behind them bears the conch shell, the symbol of the state of Travancore, as well as a welcoming message for the Duke.

    There is no known contemporary reference to this particular work, since the diary kept meticulously by the artist's brother, C. Raja Raja Varma, had begun to be kept only from 1895. There is however another contemporary account, which puts us at a moment soon after that depicted in the painting:

    1880 [...] Visit of the Governor of Madras (The Duke of Buckingham) to Travancore. The governor's eagerness to meet RV caused jealousy in the king. When the Duke met Ravi Varma in the presence of the king, he asked him to sit with them, which, according to the custom of the land was unthinkable. RV declined to sit in the presence of the king and the three, the governor, the king, and the painter, remained standing while talking. RV knew that he was now out of favour with the king and left Trivandrum never to come back during the lifetime of the king. (quoted in Neumayer and Schelberger, p. 300).

    The artist:

    Ravi Varma was born into an aristocratic family in Kerala and in his day was undoubtedly the most famous native Indian artist, a society figure and one of the 'great and good', almost in the manner of the great Victorian painters like Leighton and Alma-Tadema, with whom (as Partha Mitter notes) he can be compared in his professionalism and entrepreneurial spirit. In his later career his work became hugely popular via lithographs of his images of Hindu deities, but earlier - at around the time of this painting - he was already being feted not only by Indian rulers like the Maharaja of Travancore and of Baroda, but by the English including Buckingham. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy from 1898 to 1905, called his works 'a happy blend of Western technique and Indian subject and free from Oriental stiffness', and on his visit to India in 1875-76 the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, took 'great pleasure in [his] works'. The Maharaja of Travancore presented him with two of them. As the most sought-after academic painter of colonial India who was an aristocrat himself, Ravi Varma was often invited to state occasions by British high officials and the Indian nobility, often recording their activities on his canvases, notably the investiture ceremony of the Gaekwad of Baroda in 1881, and the elephant kheda operation in Mysore on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1906, the year of Ravi Varma's death.

    Ravi Varma, despite his aristocratic background, had gone his own way, in which he was aided by the Maharaja, Ayilayam Tirunal, who was cultured and less hidebound than his predecessors, who tended to regard artists as little more than craftsmen. Varma's early work came to the attention of R. Chisholm of the Madras Art School, who encouraged the Maharaja to put the works forward for the Madras Fine Arts Exhibition in 1873. Varma was awarded the Governor's Gold Medal for Nair Lady at her Toilet (one of the paintings later presented to Edward VII). With such a reputation it is natural that Varma would have come to the attention of Buckingham when he took over as Governor, and the Duke is known to have remarked on Varma's great facility in portraiture, noting that a European painter for whom he had posed required eighteen sittings, while Varma produced immeasurably better work after far fewer. Buckingham bought Varma's painting, Shakuntala Patralikhan (Shakuntala's Love Epistle to Dushyanta, inspired by Kalidasa's epic poem), which was entered at the Madras Fine Arts Exhibition in 1876, and sat for his official portrait by Varma in 1878, a portrait commissioned by the British administration for Government House in Madras, and known only from an inventory in the diary of Raja Raja Varma dated Friday 15th February 1901.

    Ravi Varma's later paintings, including portraits, were executed with the collaboration of his younger brother, studio partner and amanuensis, Raja Raja Varma. We know that Ravi Varma always painted the face, figure and the attire while Raja Varma did other details and the background, including the landscape. This scene of the reception of the Duke of Buckingham in Travancore would probably have been completed by the brothers after Varma left there, and presented by the artist to the Duke as a token of his appreciation, which would explain the later date of 1881 on the back of the painting.

    The brush-strokes in the background suggest Raja Varma, who was a competent landscape painter, while the delicacy of the faces and the likenesses must be the work of the senior partner in this enterprise. A figure in white looks out at the spectator from amongst the group of noblemen framed by the window to the left of the Maharaja. It seems likely that this is Ravi Varma himself, alluding to the practice of painters from the Renaissance onwards of inserting themselves into the action. It was also customary for Ravi Varma to sign his name on the work even when the background was completed by his brother, so highly was he regarded by contemporaries. The signature on the back of the canvas in the present lot is in a hand which bears some resemblance to the artist's signature as seen in other works. Their works show two dominant styles: the first represents a relatively flat treatment and darker colours that hark back to the court oil painters of Travancore whom Ravi Varma knew at first hand; the second style shows deeply modelled painting with the rich colour harmonies of his Baroda period. This painting shows the predominance of the first style.

    Since the end of the last war, if not before, it has perhaps been orthodox to deride Varma's work as rather kitsch and unaccomplished, both as a result of nationalist, anti-colonial feeling, and the opinions of modernists such as Amrita Sher-Gil and others, whose style and artistic intentions were naturally very different. But as in the case of British Victorian painters the subject matter and its handling can often blind us to their enormous technical facility.

    The Duke of Buckingham and the painting:

    Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (1823-1889), inherited the Stowe estate in Buckinghamshire from his father, the 2nd Duke, who had died bankrupt. The 3rd Duke, who had the longest running non-repetitive surname in the Guinness Book of Records (Richard Plantagenet Campbell Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville), attempted to restore the Buckingham name and fortunes. He was determined in his efforts to return Stowe to its former glory and came back from Italy in 1865 with paintings, porcelain and other works of art. Queen Victoria was so impressed that she remarked to Disraeli that no one 'more truly deserves re-institution in the ancient family seat than the Duke'. He was briefly Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1867-68. When Disraeli returned to office in 1874, the Duke was appointed Governor-General of Madras and arrived in India in 1875 with his three daughters, following his first wife's death the previous year. Madras at the time was gripped by famine, which lasted until 1877, but its effects were greatly lessened by his much-valued administrative skills. When he and his daughters returned to England in 1880 they travelled with quantities of mementoes insured at £12,685.

    After the Duke's death the painting passed to his eldest daughter Baroness Kinloss. In the sale of the estate from 5th-28th July 1921 two paintings by Ravi Varma appear in the catalogue: Shakuntala Patralikhan (described in the catalogue as "'Sa Koolala' writing a Love Letter" by 'Ravivurla Coittumburan'); 'Hindoo Woman', described as 'a companion picture' to the above; and there is a third unattributed painting 'The Maharajah of Travencore'. The present painting does not seem to appear in the catalogue, presumably because it had passed to Baroness Kinloss at an earlier date.

    We would like to thank Professor Partha Mitter for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    Bibliography:
    Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850-1922, Cambridge 1994, 179-218.
    E. Neumayer and C. Schelberger (edd., with a foreword by Partha Mitter), Raja Ravi Varma, Portrait of an Artist: the Diary of C. Raja Raja Varma, New Delhi 2005.
    Messrs. Jackson Stops, The Ducal Estate of Stowe: Sale of the Contents of the Mansion, 5th-28th July 1921.
    J. Beckett, The Rise and Fall of the Grenvilles, Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos 1710 to 1921, Manchester 1994.
    M. Bevington, Stowe House, London 2002.
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