Not being educated formally in art, I’m always reluctant to go to anything art-related. Even though I too have an art practice on the side and sold a piece recently, I don’t feel confident enough to be taken seriously as an artist.
Anyway. I digress. While the above is true, what is also true is that I enjoy the business-side of things. What does the photography market look like in India? What does the art market look like in India? Subjects that interest me.
When Arvind VijayMohan, the CEO of Artery India, invited me to their first ever ELEMENTARY talk, I was curious. The one-hour event promised a deep dive into the famous Post Modern Indian Artist Raja Ravi Varma and there would be some insights about the Indian Art Market that would be shared as well.
Rupika Chawla, who is considered the international authority on Raja Ravi Varma, was the person doing the deep dive about the artist. She is not only an expert on the artist, she is also a restorer of his art and an art conservator.
While I have heard of Raja Ravi Varma and have seen his paintings, even in person, I don’t know anything about the artist, his work or trajectory or about his contributions to Indian Art.
The image below was photographed at a Sotheby’s art lunch that I was commissioned to photograph in 2017.
But, I had no idea who the artist was and why he is considered so important. Hence, I was even more interested in learning a little bit more about RRV. ( See, we’re on initials-only name basis now – I learned so much! )
Apart from the usual stuff that’s available as information about him, like “raja”, aka he was from a royal family and he grew up in an age when there was no “travel” per se, but then the British Railroad happened, so he got to get out and that’s how his art got known. While there were probably other artists who contributed as much, if not more, RRV got around more simply because he understood the value of things like networking and showing up.
From whatever I heard, it also seems that his client-service ethics were stellar. His customers were very happy with him and he knew how to alter his work based on the market he was selling to.
A modified saree on a goddess when the painting was a production for the State and would be displayed rather publicly – so that the locals would find the work more relatable.
Painting dogs into his works because the art would be traveling to Chicago for an exhibit and he knew that foreigners loved dogs. Even though the original painting he had made had no dogs – he just added one in later.
And it worked.
Not only did his art travel the world, he himself made long trips to travel within the country. He understood who his patrons were and he presented his work accordingly.
While an original RRV painting might be a tough find – and quite the monetary investment to boot – you can, however, get one of his oleographs.
An oleograph is a chromolithograph. The original painting was done by the artist and he / she also created a drawing, which was then carved out on stone / wood. Oil paint was then applied on these carvings and this was stamped onto canvas or cloth. Many such stampings with a multitude of colors, created a final work on canvas, which was then varnished and ended up looking like an oil painting. But, it is not hand painted by the artist – it is an oleograph created by his assistants. These were common in the 19th century and the artist’s team worked to create these as multiple prints. To be fair, it was still, time and labor intensive work and had the artist’s inputs.
I would wager that the stone or wood carvings, if located / found, would be far more valuable than the oleographs. But, for now, Artery India does have more than a few of RRV’s famous paintings as oleographs and you can invest in these if you’re keen to own aN RRV but not shell out the Crores just yet.
Fascinating to hear Rupika talk about the artist.
During the Q&A with Rupika, someone from the audience asked about the identification of fakes and whether there were any penalties or any Govt.-led body that took care of such things. And I was not at all surprised to learn that no such body exists even though artists have been trying to initiate this with the Govt. of India. What a shame.
The brief lecture was followed by a brief introduction to the business of art side of things by Arvind. I’d tell you more but then it is best that you keep an eye on Artery’s updates and sign up for their next talk or reach out to them if you’re serious about learning the ins and outs of the art market, specifically in India. While there’s a lot of information about the international art market, I wasn’t even aware that Indian art is, briefly, divided into Post-Modern, Modern and Contemporary.
My art, for example, would fall in the Contemporary Indian Art bucket.
What would be a good investment? Ask Arvind!
While I had no plans to write about this event, it turned out to be right up my alley and something that I love and I learned so much that it seemed criminal not to share it with my readers.
There’s a lot more on the Artery website that I would encourage you to explore.
There were about 40 people in the audience and apart from the one gentleman who was obnoxiously loud and finger-waggy about the 15 minute delay while saying, “This is not done. This is absolutely not done.”, it seemed everyone else felt the same as me. We want more!