The First Oleograph From Raja Ravi Varma’s New Press In 1894
A rare Raja Ravi Varma’s Birth of Shakuntala, the first oleograph from the newly installed press of 1894. It is from the first batch brought out by the newly installed Raja Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithograph Press (or FAL Press) in 1894. And is thought to be the only one in existence today. Making it probably the rarest amongst the Raja Ravi Varma oleographs.
Raja Ravi Varma himself did the artwork for this print on the heavy litho stones. He had desired the oleograph to be reproduced to the exact likeness of his Birth of Shakuntala oil painting. This is evident in this oleograph since it has finer details in color and printing compared to his other oleographs. It uncannily looks more like a Ravi Varma oil painting than a print.
A sophisticated steam press of its time was imported from Germany and installed at his FAL press at Girgaum, Bombay. On the insistence of Raja Ravi Varma, the complete set of heavy litho stones (14 stones) was used to get the desired finish close to that of his painting. This fine printing process continued only with the second series which was the Laxmi oleograph.
Printing with the full set of stones (14) was discontinued in the subsequent series of printing because of labour and cost involved in producing the initial prints. The number of litho stones was cut down to a mere 7 stones for the subsequent series of RRV oleographs. Considering its age of 129 years, this oleograph was not in perfect condition. It was expertly restored by the well-known art conservator Mrs Rupika Chawla. Who did a remarkable job in restoring it to its near-original state. The bottom border with the title could only be partially restored because of deterioration.
She had also issued a letter of authenticity for this rare 1894 RRV oleograph after its restoration. For those who may be unfamiliar with Mrs Rupika Chawla, she is an art conservationist of repute, author, and expert on Raja Ravi Varma. Her book “Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India” was a bestseller. The wooden frame and glass are original to this rare print. Dimensions of the print alone are 91.4 x 60 cm (3 x 2 ft)., and with the frame, it is 104 x 73 cm (3½ x 2½ ft)., it weighs 10 kg (with frame).
Did You Know – he passed away in 1906 at the age of 58 because of diabetes. He was so newsworthy even then that many international and Indian news agencies camped at Kilimanoor on his dying days recording his last moments.
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