Raja Ravi Varma is a well-known Keralite painter. Varma was declared a national treasure by the Indian government in 1979.
Raja Ravi Varma’s untitled painting ‘Tilottama’ sold for Rs 5.17 crores at Sotheby’s New York sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art, fetching more than its upper estimate of Rs 3.90 crores. Among the handful of Raja Ravi Varma works to appear at international auctions, the painting features a celestial nymph from Hindu mythology, who embodies the “nearly perfect being”. Varma eschewed Western subject matter and often illustrated myriad stories from Vedic mythology as well as the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
“The challenge for Varma lay in mediating images, which were life-like in appearance and often Western, neo-classical in inspiration to make them viable as Indian cultural symbols,” according to the auction house’s website.
According to the Hindu mythology, Tilottama, was created at Brahma’s request to destroy two demon brothers, Sunda and Upasunda, who could not be killed by anyone except themselves. Legend has it that the two brothers were so captivated by her beauty, that they fought over her and ended up killing each other. Varma’s painting that portrays the ‘apsara’s’ descent through the skies down to earth, is said to be inspired by Venus who was the embodiment of female beauty.
Sotheby’s said the whopping price for the painting was “achieved following several minutes of bidding between three telephone bidders”.