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PROPERTY FROM THE FRITZ SCHLEICHER FAMILY COLLECTION

Oil on canvas
36 1/2 × 24 1/2 in. (92.8 × 62.1 cm.)

PROVENANCE:
The current lot was acquired by Fritz Schleicher in 1903, when he purchased the Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press and its contents from the artist Raja Ravi Varma.

Raja Ravi Varma and the Fine Arts Lithographic Press

Raja Ravi Varma was born Ravi Varma Koil Thampuran in Kilimanoor village, in the erstwhile state of Travancore in South India. The family of Kilimanoor, to which he belonged, had very close ties with the Travancore royal family, thereby allowing him to have a close relationship with them. Following traditional norms, Ravi Varma was educated in the Kilimanoor Palace. However, in addition to the regular curriculum, his uncle, sensing a special talent, added a special class of drawing for the young boy, ‘...even at the tender age of five or six, he would cram the walls of his home with pictures of animals and scenes from daily life done with chalk and charcoal, despite the scoldings he regularly got for ‘spoiling’ the walls.’ (Parsram Mangharam, Raja Ravi Varma The Painter Prince 1848 - 1906, Bangalore, 2003, p. 17)

Ravi Varma grew up in an environment rich with the arts. The Royal family of Travancore had always been active patrons of the arts, including music, painting and sculpture, and his proximity to the family ensured that he was exposed to these forms from a young age. His skill as a draughtsman was spotted at the age of thirteen by the Maharaja, who had been presented with drawings by Ravi Varma, and was thoroughly impressed. He instructed the boy to live in the palace and learn from the other artists working in the court at the time. The Indian court artists had recently been introduced to two novel concepts: canvas and oil paint, both alien to the artists of South India, but critical elements to the European academic style that was currently in favour. As they were still learning how to make optimal use of these magical mediums, there was a fair amount of caution and jealousy that existed amongst the artists. None were willing to be generous with their time or knowledge, and the young Ravi Varma lacked a mentor within the palace who could develop his talent further. Until he met Arumughom Pillai, an apprentice who ‘offered to initiate the young man into the intricacies of oils and new techniques...’ (ibid., p. 18) Surprisingly, he met similar resistance from visiting European artists, who begrudgingly, only allowed Ravi Varma to watch them at work, but would not agree to formal lessons in Academic Realism. Some art historians claim, however, that Theodore Jensen, one of the artists present, did offer further support and assistance to the young artist.

Despite these setbacks, through sheer determination, a natural talent for painting, and endless practice, Ravi Varma mastered the art of working in oil. The art critic Sri E.M.J. Venniyoor states, ‘the struggle at self-instruction lasted nine years. By the simple expedient of trial and error Ravi Varma learnt the technique of mixing colours. He could evoke a likeness without effort, could compose and construct with a sense of balance, and for the first time in the annals of Indian art, mastered and introduced the principle of perspective...’ (ibid.) His hard work paid off, and he became the preferred choice of the Maharaja who was immensely pleased with his work.

Ravi Varma’s favourite genre was the female figure, but her avatars ranged from the classical heroine from folk tales, to numerous incarnations of goddesses from the Hindu pantheon, to women from his social milieu and the palace at large. Scenes from Hindu mythology were also extremely popular, and he spent many hours reading the epics and other forms of classical literature. By the early 1870s, Ravi Varma was well-established as a professional artist, and he began actively entering works into exhibitions. He won the Governor’s Gold Medal in 1873 for Nair Lady at the Toilet, and for Shakuntala’s Love Letter To Dushyantha, painted in 1876, which proved to be a stepping stone to international recognition as well as positive press reviews praising the young artist. ‘Ravi Varma the painter and path-breaker, would not have been as well-known as he is today had he not been blessed with great energy and a love of adventure. It is this particular quality that propelled him out of his ancestral home of Kilimanoor, near Trivandrum, close to the southern tip of India, into the larger, northern peninsula. His vehicle was the developing network of railways being laid by the British and the now defunct steam engine train. For over thirty years, he and his brother Raja Raja Varma rumbled and rattled in hot and sooty train compartments as they criss-crossed the country in search of exploration, experience and painting commissions.’ (Rupika Chawla, ‘Ravi Varma – The Sprawling World of a Genius’, Pundole’s Fine Art Sale, Mumbai, 17 November 2016, p. 29)

When his primary patron and supporter, the Maharaja of Travancore, passed away in 1880, Ravi Varma began travelling around the country more frequently, accepting commissions and invitations from various royal families, including Baroda, Pune, and Mysore. His focus remained portraiture and mythological scenes, which coincided with the subject choice of his new royal patrons. His partner on his travels was his brother, Raja Raja Varma, who was an artist as well as a writer. He documented the brothers’ journeys in a diary that took the form of a travel journal, excerpts of which ‘...provided valuable insight into the lives of the two brothers, their routine, the temples they never failed to pray at, the demands made on their time, energy, emotions... and their deep and abiding interest in other art forms...’ (Parsram Mangharam, op. cit., p. 24)

The combination of his innate talent, coupled with these fortuitous events, essentially led to Raja Ravi Varma being credited with ushering in a watershed modern art movement in India. His skillful handling of oil paint to create luminous canvases, replete with the clever use of light to convey textures and effects, was known throughout the country. His constant travels to multiple princely states for various commissions, as documented by his younger brother, and the sheer volume of portraits created, attest to the fact that he was held in the highest regard by the ruling Indian elite, as well as members of the British Government.

His other notable accomplishment, was to herald and promote the art of printmaking in India, by setting up the first lithographic press in the country. On the advice of Sir T. Madhava Rao, former Dewan of Travancore and later Baroda, who provided Ravi Varma with the idea of printing and distributing oleographs because of their wider reach, the Travancore painter set up the Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press in 1894 in Mumbai (then Bombay). It was at this point in time, that Raja Ravi Varma began his association with a German print maker named Fritz Schleicher. Schleicher’s grandson explains how the association began. ‘The story goes back to the end of the 19th century when Raja Ravi Varma sent his personal secretary to find an oleographic printer in Germany. His secretary was in the National Museum in Berlin, where purely by accident, he bumped into my grandfather. As they were the only two people in the gallery, they started talking to each other. The secretary informed my grandfather that he was looking for a young man who had finished his education as an oleographic printer, and my grandfather responded to say that he was indeed a fully qualified oleographic printer, and that he was, in fact, looking for work. So they agreed on terms in principle, and he invited my grandfather to come to India, and to work with Raja Ravi Varma. The press was originally set up in Mumbai, and was being run by Ravi Varma himself, but the problem was he could not paint, accept commissions and run the press at the same time. He also wasn’t an oleographic printer, and so he had problems with how to run the flatbed machines which were principally used at that time. So when Fritz Schleicher (that’s my grandfather) came to India, he worked for Ravi Varma for four hundred rupees a month, which was an enormously large salary for the time.’ (A conversation with Rob Dean, May 2022)

A three-year contract between Fritz Schleicher and Ravi Varma’s agent, Abdoola Hoossein, was actually signed in June 1893. It confirmed, that for the first year Fritz was to be paid a sum equivalent to three hundred and fifty German marks per month (and would increase thereafter), and was to be employed as the printer and manager of the oleograph and chromolithograph workshop. He was to be provided with an apartment and an assistant, and he was to work nine hours a day with the exception of Sundays. The Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press officially opened in late 1894, with Fritz Schleicher in charge of the technical aspects, and Raja Raja Varma overseeing the artistic content of the printing process. They were aided in their work by the artists M.V. Dhurandhar and M.A. Joshi. About a year later, Paul Gerhardt arrived from Germany, and also worked alongside Fritz at the press. Although he was primarily employed to work alongside Schleicher on the technical side, he was a talented artist in his own right, sometimes producing paintings that became exemplars for oleographs.

The establishment of the lithographic press, not only made the manufacture of artworks in large numbers possible, but also allowed for popular mass distribution of the artist’s better known works; a concept that had been foremost in Raja Ravi Varma’s mind. The easy acquisition of prints depicting mythological scenes or religious subjects, provided the masses with an image they could worship outside of a temple, which importantly, due to caste restrictions at certain temples, provided for many, their first access to religious...

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Time, Location
25 Apr 2024
India, Mumbai
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PROPERTY FROM THE FRITZ SCHLEICHER FAMILY COLLECTION

Oil on canvas
36 1/2 × 24 1/2 in. (92.8 × 62.1 cm.)

PROVENANCE:
The current lot was acquired by Fritz Schleicher in 1903, when he purchased the Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press and its contents from the artist Raja Ravi Varma.

Raja Ravi Varma and the Fine Arts Lithographic Press

Raja Ravi Varma was born Ravi Varma Koil Thampuran in Kilimanoor village, in the erstwhile state of Travancore in South India. The family of Kilimanoor, to which he belonged, had very close ties with the Travancore royal family, thereby allowing him to have a close relationship with them. Following traditional norms, Ravi Varma was educated in the Kilimanoor Palace. However, in addition to the regular curriculum, his uncle, sensing a special talent, added a special class of drawing for the young boy, ‘...even at the tender age of five or six, he would cram the walls of his home with pictures of animals and scenes from daily life done with chalk and charcoal, despite the scoldings he regularly got for ‘spoiling’ the walls.’ (Parsram Mangharam, Raja Ravi Varma The Painter Prince 1848 - 1906, Bangalore, 2003, p. 17)

Ravi Varma grew up in an environment rich with the arts. The Royal family of Travancore had always been active patrons of the arts, including music, painting and sculpture, and his proximity to the family ensured that he was exposed to these forms from a young age. His skill as a draughtsman was spotted at the age of thirteen by the Maharaja, who had been presented with drawings by Ravi Varma, and was thoroughly impressed. He instructed the boy to live in the palace and learn from the other artists working in the court at the time. The Indian court artists had recently been introduced to two novel concepts: canvas and oil paint, both alien to the artists of South India, but critical elements to the European academic style that was currently in favour. As they were still learning how to make optimal use of these magical mediums, there was a fair amount of caution and jealousy that existed amongst the artists. None were willing to be generous with their time or knowledge, and the young Ravi Varma lacked a mentor within the palace who could develop his talent further. Until he met Arumughom Pillai, an apprentice who ‘offered to initiate the young man into the intricacies of oils and new techniques...’ (ibid., p. 18) Surprisingly, he met similar resistance from visiting European artists, who begrudgingly, only allowed Ravi Varma to watch them at work, but would not agree to formal lessons in Academic Realism. Some art historians claim, however, that Theodore Jensen, one of the artists present, did offer further support and assistance to the young artist.

Despite these setbacks, through sheer determination, a natural talent for painting, and endless practice, Ravi Varma mastered the art of working in oil. The art critic Sri E.M.J. Venniyoor states, ‘the struggle at self-instruction lasted nine years. By the simple expedient of trial and error Ravi Varma learnt the technique of mixing colours. He could evoke a likeness without effort, could compose and construct with a sense of balance, and for the first time in the annals of Indian art, mastered and introduced the principle of perspective...’ (ibid.) His hard work paid off, and he became the preferred choice of the Maharaja who was immensely pleased with his work.

Ravi Varma’s favourite genre was the female figure, but her avatars ranged from the classical heroine from folk tales, to numerous incarnations of goddesses from the Hindu pantheon, to women from his social milieu and the palace at large. Scenes from Hindu mythology were also extremely popular, and he spent many hours reading the epics and other forms of classical literature. By the early 1870s, Ravi Varma was well-established as a professional artist, and he began actively entering works into exhibitions. He won the Governor’s Gold Medal in 1873 for Nair Lady at the Toilet, and for Shakuntala’s Love Letter To Dushyantha, painted in 1876, which proved to be a stepping stone to international recognition as well as positive press reviews praising the young artist. ‘Ravi Varma the painter and path-breaker, would not have been as well-known as he is today had he not been blessed with great energy and a love of adventure. It is this particular quality that propelled him out of his ancestral home of Kilimanoor, near Trivandrum, close to the southern tip of India, into the larger, northern peninsula. His vehicle was the developing network of railways being laid by the British and the now defunct steam engine train. For over thirty years, he and his brother Raja Raja Varma rumbled and rattled in hot and sooty train compartments as they criss-crossed the country in search of exploration, experience and painting commissions.’ (Rupika Chawla, ‘Ravi Varma – The Sprawling World of a Genius’, Pundole’s Fine Art Sale, Mumbai, 17 November 2016, p. 29)

When his primary patron and supporter, the Maharaja of Travancore, passed away in 1880, Ravi Varma began travelling around the country more frequently, accepting commissions and invitations from various royal families, including Baroda, Pune, and Mysore. His focus remained portraiture and mythological scenes, which coincided with the subject choice of his new royal patrons. His partner on his travels was his brother, Raja Raja Varma, who was an artist as well as a writer. He documented the brothers’ journeys in a diary that took the form of a travel journal, excerpts of which ‘...provided valuable insight into the lives of the two brothers, their routine, the temples they never failed to pray at, the demands made on their time, energy, emotions... and their deep and abiding interest in other art forms...’ (Parsram Mangharam, op. cit., p. 24)

The combination of his innate talent, coupled with these fortuitous events, essentially led to Raja Ravi Varma being credited with ushering in a watershed modern art movement in India. His skillful handling of oil paint to create luminous canvases, replete with the clever use of light to convey textures and effects, was known throughout the country. His constant travels to multiple princely states for various commissions, as documented by his younger brother, and the sheer volume of portraits created, attest to the fact that he was held in the highest regard by the ruling Indian elite, as well as members of the British Government.

His other notable accomplishment, was to herald and promote the art of printmaking in India, by setting up the first lithographic press in the country. On the advice of Sir T. Madhava Rao, former Dewan of Travancore and later Baroda, who provided Ravi Varma with the idea of printing and distributing oleographs because of their wider reach, the Travancore painter set up the Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press in 1894 in Mumbai (then Bombay). It was at this point in time, that Raja Ravi Varma began his association with a German print maker named Fritz Schleicher. Schleicher’s grandson explains how the association began. ‘The story goes back to the end of the 19th century when Raja Ravi Varma sent his personal secretary to find an oleographic printer in Germany. His secretary was in the National Museum in Berlin, where purely by accident, he bumped into my grandfather. As they were the only two people in the gallery, they started talking to each other. The secretary informed my grandfather that he was looking for a young man who had finished his education as an oleographic printer, and my grandfather responded to say that he was indeed a fully qualified oleographic printer, and that he was, in fact, looking for work. So they agreed on terms in principle, and he invited my grandfather to come to India, and to work with Raja Ravi Varma. The press was originally set up in Mumbai, and was being run by Ravi Varma himself, but the problem was he could not paint, accept commissions and run the press at the same time. He also wasn’t an oleographic printer, and so he had problems with how to run the flatbed machines which were principally used at that time. So when Fritz Schleicher (that’s my grandfather) came to India, he worked for Ravi Varma for four hundred rupees a month, which was an enormously large salary for the time.’ (A conversation with Rob Dean, May 2022)

A three-year contract between Fritz Schleicher and Ravi Varma’s agent, Abdoola Hoossein, was actually signed in June 1893. It confirmed, that for the first year Fritz was to be paid a sum equivalent to three hundred and fifty German marks per month (and would increase thereafter), and was to be employed as the printer and manager of the oleograph and chromolithograph workshop. He was to be provided with an apartment and an assistant, and he was to work nine hours a day with the exception of Sundays. The Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press officially opened in late 1894, with Fritz Schleicher in charge of the technical aspects, and Raja Raja Varma overseeing the artistic content of the printing process. They were aided in their work by the artists M.V. Dhurandhar and M.A. Joshi. About a year later, Paul Gerhardt arrived from Germany, and also worked alongside Fritz at the press. Although he was primarily employed to work alongside Schleicher on the technical side, he was a talented artist in his own right, sometimes producing paintings that became exemplars for oleographs.

The establishment of the lithographic press, not only made the manufacture of artworks in large numbers possible, but also allowed for popular mass distribution of the artist’s better known works; a concept that had been foremost in Raja Ravi Varma’s mind. The easy acquisition of prints depicting mythological scenes or religious subjects, provided the masses with an image they could worship outside of a temple, which importantly, due to caste restrictions at certain temples, provided for many, their first access to religious...

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Time, Location
25 Apr 2024
India, Mumbai
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