“Birth of Shakuntala” The First Oleograph Printed In The Raja Ravi Varma Press In 1894


A rare Raja Ravi Varma’s Birth of Shakuntala oleograph/lithograph. This was the first oleograph printed in the newly opened Raja Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithograph Press (FAL Press) in 1894. This print was of the first edition batch. The artist himself did the artwork of this lithograph print on the heavy litho stones of the press.

This lithograph was printed on the sophisticated steam press that was imported from Germany at that time. It looks almost exactly like that of its oil painting by Raja Ravi Varma. Displaying a far superior quality of finish compared to his other oleograph prints. It was due to the fact that Ravi Varma insisted on using the complete set of the 14 litho stones. Despite the German technicians advising for the use of lesser number of stones for economical reasons (as normally done in Germany).

RRV did not agree to this, since the venture was new, he did not want to disappoint potential buyers. He wanted the Birth of Shakuntala to be a near likeness of his oil painting. However, this cumbersome process was eventually discontinued. Because as justified by the technicians it was not economical. Too much labour was involved in carrying each of the heavy stones.

Thus the litho stones were reduced from 14 stones to a  mere 7 stones, this was after the third or fourth series of printing. Considering its age of over 100 years, the oleograph was not in perfect condition. It was however expertly restored by the well-known art conservator Mrs Rupika Chawla, who revived it to its almost original condition.

Mrs Chawla had also furnished a letter of authenticity after the restoration. For those who may be unfamiliar her book “Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India” became a bestseller. This Birth of Shakuntala oleograph comes in its original heavy wooden frame and thick glass. Dimension with the frame is 3½ x 2½ ft (104 x 73 cm) and weighs 10 kg., without the frame the print measures 3 x 2 ft (91.4 x 60 cm).

Also read Raja Ravi Varma: When the Gods Came Home.

See posts Raja Ravi Varma’s Portrait Photo – Old Postcard 1904., and Raja Ravi Varma’s Wife Bhageerathi Bayi, Rare 1870 Photo.

Did You Know – Raja Ravi Varma passed away in 1906 at the age of 58 because of diabetes. He was so newsworthy even at that time, that many international and Indian news agencies camped at Kilimanoor on his dying days recording his last moments.  

From my collection- Rare Advertisement Taj Palace Hotel Bombay 1907., Crawford Market & Tram In Mumbai- Old Postcard 1914., Bombay War Charity WW1 In British India – Old Print 1917.