About the Collection
Oleographs, also called chromolithographs, are multi-colour art prints, stemming from the process of lithography. Pioneered in the 1830s in Europe, the process of producing oleographs came into wide commercial use in the 1860s. The technique relied on using several woodblocks or stones with colours for printing, while hand-colouring remained an important aspect as well. Depending on the number of colours present, an oleograph could take months to produce by very skilled workers. Poor preservation and cheaper printing alternatives have made oleographs hard to find. Today, they are mainly used as fine art.
In India, oleographs were made mainstream by the artist Raja Ravi Varma. He began depicting Indian gods and goddesses in his art in the late 19th century when places of worship were only accessible to certain classes of society. Through affordable art prints, or oleographs, he democratized access to religious imagery across class and caste. Many of these oleographs were printed at his own printing press, the Ravi Varma Press, which he started in 1894 in Ghatkopar, Mumbai. This was later shifted to Malavli, near Lonavala, in 1899. The oleographs printed here were very popular and continued to be printed in thousands for many years, even after the death of Raja Ravi Varma in 1906. Along with him, other artists of the time, such as G.V. Venkatesh Rao, Vasudeo Pandya and CG Ramanujam also created oleographs. The subjects were mainly Indian gods and goddesses, and scenes and stories from Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas.
In later decades, many of Ravi Varma’s oleographs were dressed up with cloth, glitter, sequins, and beads by countless women across the country, to be displayed on domestic walls. This additional decoration made each of the pieces unique, and more valuable. Some of the oleographs also became carriers for colonial products adverting toiletries and other sundry goods. An oleograph of Goddess Lakshmi advertising a brand of soap, for instance, had women rushing to buy the product.
Today, oleographs in good condition are extremely hard to find, and hence, are prized collectibles.
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