The Coquette and Reclining Nair Lady were sold for $74,999 (about 56 lakh) and $63,999 (around 47 lakh), respectively, in an online auction organized by RtistiQ, a physical and digital art marketplace, from February 17 to 20.
While digital art has been sold as NFTs for varied amounts in India and around the world, this sale is a fascinating example of how the NFT asset class could change how even traditional works of art are viewed, invested in, and held.
Ravi Varma’s original works are still in private hands. The non-profit Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation recently documented and restored them. The present owners of the paintings gave the Foundation permission to sell a unique digitised version of each of the two works.
While it is unknown who purchased the two NFTs, it is intriguing because it could be anyone in the world — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, given that authentic Ravi Varmas are now classified as national treasures and cannot be exported.
“To preserve the industry’s health, it’s important to examine the potential of tokenizing national treasures and promoting stronger collaborations between diverse stakeholders in the arts scene,” says Jothi Menon, CEO and founder of RtistiQ.
The paintings themselves, as with many of Varma’s works, feature aristocratic women as his subjects. “Realism was an essential component of Ravi Varma’s painting. Ravi Varma used every artistic device he could to make each scene as visually appealing and real as he could, from the richness of brocade and satin to the glow of Basra pearls, the glint of gold and metal, and the lavishness of detail,” says Rukmini Varma, Raja Ravi Varma’s great-great-granddaughter, an artist herself, and chairperson of the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation.
A lovely and wealthy woman is depicted in the Coquette, draped in a gorgeous sari and heavy jewellery. As the woman in the centre of the frame gazes quietly at the observer over an open book, a maid fanning her with a palm leaf, Reclining Nair Lady depicts class disparities. This picture’s composition is evocative of French painter Edouard Manet’s Olympia, an 1863 painting depicting a naked woman lying on a bed receiving flowers from a servant. “However, it is clear that Ravi Varma’s paintings have undergone stylistic and cultural adaptation,” Rukmini argues.
Impressionism, a movement in France during the 1860s that rebelled against academic artistic standards, and Manet, a master within it, had a significant influence on Ravi Varma’s work. “It’s clear that, while he liked the imagery in Manet’s Olympia, the painting’s Impressionistic manner did not appeal to him,” Rukmini Varma explains.
Ravi Varma was a realism enthusiast who was one of the first Indian painters to successfully apply academic realism to the visual interpretation of Indian mythology. His religious paintings have made him one of the most well-known classical artists of the modern era. His work is now entering yet another new era.
The NFTs, according to the Foundation, are another step in promoting and preserving Ravi Varma’s work through documenting, interpreting, reinterpreting, and preserving it.