Fritz Schleicher was a German printer from Berlin, who managed the 'Ravi Varma Oleographic and Chromolithographic Printing Workshop' and later bought the printing press from Ravi Varma in 1903.
The principles of European realist painting were introduced in India in the mid-19th century. There was a massive influx of British-born artists such as Tilly Kettle, James Wales, and Thomas Hickey who worked on commissions from various royal courts in India. These artists brought with them the latest trend -Victorian Academic Realism - giving rise to genres such as oil portraits, naturalistic landscapes, academic nudes and history painting. They also brought tools of trade such as oil paints and canvas. This led to the establishment of art schools in Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. The aim of these schools was to wean Indian artists away from the prescribed and 'degenerate designs' of the old miniature painting convention and instead encourage them to paint the true likenesses of their subjects. The combined effect of these occurrences and influences was the emergence of a new class of Indian artists, chief amongst whom was Raja Ravi Varma.
Here, a curvaceous, dark haired beauty is depicted emerging from a lush woodland, swathed in yards of fine silk. While adjusting her garment, her body language remains relaxed, suggesting that she is unaware of being observed. Her stance is reminiscent of Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. This pose along with the dark backdrop serves as a stark contrast to her creamy complexion and is reminiscent of sixteenth century Old Master paintings. The water pot is also traditionally employed as a symbol of femininity. In the present work, the artist has melded the wisdom of Western classical painting and Indian mythology while incorporating the drawing technique and color palette of Impressionism and Romanticism. On closer inspection, the viewer will note that unlike an ordinary woman, the subject is wearing ornaments of precious stones and metal, a mark of high birth, perhaps like a mythological nymph. Rupasundari's curious gaze makes her appear modest and approachable while at the same time captures some of her heroic and bold deportment.
The Ravi Varma Oleographic and Chromolithographic Printing Workshop, was founded in 1894 by Ravi Varma to make his art more accessible to the public, thus democratizing the availability of art in ordinary homes. The turning point came when Fritz Schleicher, a German printer from Berlin was engaged by Ravi Varma to help manage the press and who subsequently in 1903 bought the press from Ravi Varma and re-named it The Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Works. Under Schleicher’s management the press gained a reputation as the foremost high-quality press of its kind. Rupasundari was painted for the Ravi Varma Press in Malavli and made to be reproduced as lithographs in the first half of the twentieth century.
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