Vintage Indian Graphics

Blocks of color radiate on the page. Hindu gods dance, slay, stand serene. Some deities wield swords, tridents, and other weapons, while others are the picture of peace, for example Krishna playing his flute in the forest before his consort Radha or the countless cow herding maidens. Other graphics veer away from the sacred world, depicting beautiful women, peacocks, roosters, rockets, or planets in outer space. The world of vintage Indian graphics is a collector's dream.
The technical printing terms for these colored images are 'chromo lithographs' or 'oleographs', but to the common man in India, they are often known as 'framing pictures'.
Sacred Art
Of course, pictures of deities are one of the most important themes in vintage Indian lithographs. Devotional images were mass produced and graced walls in villages, towns, and bustling cities.
Many of the earliest lithographs, in the 19th century, were printed in Germany and then imported into India. The most famous name associated with these vintage Asian treasures is the painter Raja Ravi Varma. He is a household name amongst all collectors of India's vintage graphics. Varma's paintings were frequently reproduced as lithographs on the German presses. Then in 1894 he set up a press of his own in Bombay so that the images could be domestically produced.
Raja Ravi Varma's style, along with some other artists of these early lithograph days, was closer to Western naturalism. Therefore older lithographs tend to look like Western style painting but with Indian themes. Over time, the graphics began to take on forms closer to traditional Hindu temple art - with a distinctly Indian look and feel to them.
Indian Beauties
Aside from religious art, Raja Ravi Varma created a number of paintings of beautiful Indian women, and these were also a favorite subjects of the lithographs. The women of this genre of vintage lithographs pose in forests, stand on columned terraces of palaces, or sit down to play classical Indian musical instruments. These illustrations are dwarfed by the massive numbers of religious lithographs but still form an important component of the vintage Indian graphic portfolio.
Graphic Design for Commercial Products
Another major collector's area is matchbox and fireworks labels. The presses were centered in the heart of matchstick and fireworks producing territory - Sivakasi in South India. These products tend to have secular themes. Animals are a favorite subject - a cobra, a peacock, a horse, an eagle, a bumblebee, etc. For fireworks, outer space themes or scantily clad showgirls are also common.
The printing of packaging was intended to be temporary so it was often of a much less refined quality compared to the attention paid to production standards of framing pictures. However, this makes it no less of an art form. These vintage graphics have a beauty all their own.
Indian Graphics Today
While production qualities have improved, mass produced images of deities are still all the rage amongst Indian consumers. In addition to Hindu themes, there are Muslim and Christian prints. These gorgeous images can be found for sell in bazaars all over India.

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