Raja Ravi Varma’s ‘Tilottama’ fetches Rs 5 crore at New York auction

The painting, sold at Sotheby’s in New York, was bought by an unknown private collector for a price that far exceeded the seller’s estimate.
Raja Ravi Varma’s ‘Tilottama’ fetches Rs 5 crore at New York auction
Raja Ravi Varma’s ‘Tilottama’ fetches Rs 5 crore at New York auction
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Renowned Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma’s Tilottama was sold for $795,000 (around Rs 5 crore) at a New York auction on Monday.

The painting was sold at the Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary South Asian art auction in the city. The winning bid was made by an anonymous private collector, according to a Livemint report. The bid went much beyond the seller’s estimate, which was between $400,000 and $600,000.

Tilottama, as the name suggests, is a painting of the celestial nymph from Indian mythology depicted partially undressed in a red saree, flying to the heavens. With her one hand raised and the other holding together her floating saree, she embodies all that is seen in Ravi Varma’s paintings of women.

Ravi Varma’s portraits are characterised by “a tactile reality imbued with subtly nuanced flesh tones and careful attention to facial characteristics. In addition to the glistening physical presence, the depiction of clothes and glittering jewellery of his women create a mimetic spell on the viewer,” says Yashodhara Dalmia in the book, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives. These artistic traits are evident in Tilottama as well.

The 20 x 13 and a quarter inch oil on canvas masterpiece was created by Ravi Varma around 1896. His signature and the date (almost faded) are visible on the lower left side of the painting, according to the auction house. 

In March 2017, Sotheby’s reportedly sold Ravi Varma’s (Untitled) Damayanti for $1.2 million. Further, auction house Pundole’s also sold his piece Radha in the Moonlight for Rs 23 crore, which is reportedly the current standing price for the artist.

Raja Ravi Varma, considered one of the greatest in the history of Indian art, was known for combining Indian subjects with European realist style taught by the academies of art in Europe.

The artist, who married into the Travancore royal family, was not just a portrait artist par excellence for the upper rungs of Kerala royalty and society, he also made available his paintings to the masses in the form of lithographs.

The dissemination of his artworks helped the common man to appreciate art, a hobby generally reserved for the upper class. The lithographs further helped spread word about the artist’s works, making him a household name in the country.

Despite the fame and recognition, only 64 works of the artist have been auctioned in over three decades, according to the Mint report.

Tilotamma is the latest and also one of the relatively well-known paintings from Varma’s lot to be auctioned this year.

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