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Wild Variations

How Print and Digital Reproductions of Art Can Vary Wildly from the Original Work

Looking up information online today is much like shopping in a supermarket — there’s too much of everything, everything’s similar (or appears to be), and everything’s calling out to you.

I was searching through the catalogue of Raja Ravi Varma (RRV) online recently and stumbled upon one of my favorite works of his. To my surprise the picture appeared so different from a printed copy I had seen before that I thought it must have been a student study or a copy that RRV himself must have made. In seconds I found a second reproduction of the same painting and, lo and behold, this one appeared even more different from the previous two.

Turns out that the two prints were in-fact old (and different) reproductions from RRV’s press. In 1894 RRV had started a lithographic printing press in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, called the Ravi Varma Pictures Depot, which produced copies of his paintings for merchandising on everything from posters and postcards to calendars and match boxes.

Title of the work: Rama Threatens the Ocean God Varuna on His Not Making Way for Him, 1905, Raja Ravi Varma. Left: Print of the original painting, oil on canvas, as it appears in a book on art. And right: digital image of a print reproduction

Detail of Original Work (Top) as compared to the later reproduction (Bottom).

The variations in the expression of the character is not only vast but no doubt affects the energy and impact of the scene. The reason why the original painting is one of my RRV favorites — the emotion on the character’s face (and I would never have known the power of the work without looking at the original).

Another detail of original work (Top), as compared to the later print reproduction (Bottom). Again, the fear and urgency the original conveys just does not come through in the copy.

Of course, these differences come from various factors like reproduction process, quality of materials used, skills of the persons making the reproduction etc. as well as age and conditions in the which the copies were kept and stored.

Now for the casual passersby (and most of us are most of the times), these differences are of no consequence — anything’ll do (and understandably so). But for those interested in the real deal — students, creators, enthusiasts and connoisseurs) these mis-matches can make a world of difference.

"And one could argue that it is these differences are what convert the casual passerby into the student, creator, enthusiast or connoisseur."

It’s important to note that this problem occurs with ALL art, and especially when images are transferred between media. Just like two printouts of the same image taken from the same printer can have variations, all copies, re-creations and re-prints have their difference. In other words — only the original is, well, original.

In a world of rapid production (and consumption), this just goes to show you really do need to check the “manufacture process”, “ingredients” and “manufacturer” labels on the back before taking your art home.

Print variations of Starry Night by Van Gogh, as it appears in a screen grab from an internet screech page

Footnotes and References

Rama Conquers Varuna, the Sea God, on Google Arts and Culture:

Details of the original work:

Title: Rama Threatens the Ocean God Varuna on His Not Making Way for Him

Creator: Raja Ravi Varma

Type: Oil on Canvas

Date Created: 1905

Location Created: Mysore, Karnataka

Original Source: Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery Trust, Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore

All images of original artworks here are copyright of their respective creators/ owners and are used here only for educational purposes. All other content is copyright © Malcolm Fernandes.


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