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How to get the look of a Raja Ravi Varma painting

Internet is awash with make-up artists recreating looks from famous paintings. Experts share three looks inspired by different art styles

'Hamsa and Damayanti'
'Hamsa and Damayanti' (Wikipedia)

Different brushes for different techniques, understanding light play and working with different kinds of pigments— there’s a lot that make-up and art have in common. Social media trends and the demand for unique content have seen make-up artists blurring the lines between the two to create new techniques and looks, works of art in their own right.

Two of the most common art muses for make-up artists online seem to be 19th century artist Vincent van Gogh (the use of the painterly effect, or recreating The Starry Night on the eyelids) and 20th century’s Frida Kahlo (deep red lips, monobrow and flower crowns). Renaissance art, too, has inspired the cloud skin make-up look, defined by a diffused glow and gentle blurring and achieved with a luminous foundation and a hydrated base.

Also read: Can beauty lie in powder cleansers?

And it’s not just make-up artists and YouTubers who have been rediscovering the connection between art and make-up for Instagram. In May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York shared an expert tutorial on “How To Do Your Makeup Like An 18th-Century French Aristocrat” for its Gram handle. 

What’s more, these looks need not be limited to online viewing—they can be a good option for a party. Three make-up artists share three looks inspired by three art styles for your next evening out: the Kalighat style of painting, Raja Ravi Varma and Gustav Klimt.

Raja Ravi Varma style

The women in 19th century artist Raja Ravi Varma’s works generally have blemish-free skin that seems to glow magically from within. Varma deftly played with light and shadow and depicted realistic porcelain skin, with blush-tone lips, youthful brows and eyes filled with thoughts, dialogue and emotion.

If you too are looking to create a natural, lit-from-within base with no harsh contouring, make-up artist Kalyani Nayak tells you what to do. Her advice: “To recreate Varma’s style, always remember, less is more.”

Get the look

Massage the face with a moisturiser. Apply a luminous lightweight foundation with a beauty sponge to get a naturally radiant finish. Sparingly apply concealer, only on the problem areas, and blend well. We need to keep the look as natural as possible. To set the foundation, apply a translucent loose setting powder in the areas where the skin tends to get oily, like the T-zone. Leave the rest of the face free of powder to achieve the luminous skin look.

The colours of the blush used in the beautiful paintings were soft shades of coral, peach and pink. The texture was powder. Apply a very thin layer of blush on the apple of the cheeks. Start with little, and build the colour just enough to give you that faint freshly flushed look. With almost nothing else happening on the skin, Varma often focused on the eyebrows in his paintings. Use a pomade or an eyebrow powder to fill in the gaps, and define and make your brows look naturally darker and bushier. A dab of a peachy coral shade with a hint of red is the lip shade you need to look for. Remember to apply a thin layer so that it looks naturally healthy and tinted, and buff it without leaving any harsh lines.

The eyeshadow is minimal. It may be left bare, with just the leftover foundation swiped over the eyelid to remove any discolouration. Or a wash of colour from the same family as the blush can be used. Be extremely delicate with your brush and blend seamlessly. A thin black liquid eyeliner can be used on the lash line to define it.

Kalighat style

‘Babu and Bibi’
‘Babu and Bibi’ (Courtesy Jaypore/Tejas Art)

West Bengal’s Kalighat style of painting, which traces its origins to the 19th century, depicts everything from mythological characters and divine scenes to daily life. A common design element in many of the paintings is overarched eyebrows, with a parallel arch in the crease of the lid in a darker tone, a style that make-up lovers will recognise as the cut crease. Make-up artist Vibha Gusain breaks down this look.

Get the look

Start by applying primer so that the eyeshadow doesn’t smudge. This look needs precision, so an eye primer is needed.

The cut crease style, popular in the West in the 1960s (it was model Twiggy’s signature look), used to frequently incorporate blue and other icy tones for the shadow, defined mostly by a black line or darker shadow in the crease. For the tones used in the Kalighat style, use a neutral, darker eyeshadow for the crease. Gusain prefers tones of brown to define the crease. Pat on the colour on the lid, beginning from the crease and moving above, and blend it nicely with a fluffy brush.

Use a thin angled brush or a small eyeshadow brush to outline the cut in the crease with a concealer. A matte concealer is better suited to this style. Cover your eyelid below the crease.

Use any light eyeshadow on top of this concealer base. For detailing, you can add a liner close to your lash line. You can also use the same eyeshadow on the lower lash line for a more intense look.

The Kalighat cut crease does not depict the Twiggy-style harsh black line in the crease, instead using two different colours to define the cut in the crease.

Finish the look with mascara. Gusain suggests going light on fake lashes as there is already too much happening on the eye. Apply mascara on both the upper and lower lashes.

Gustav Klimt style

Portrait of Eugenia Primaesi.
Portrait of Eugenia Primaesi. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The 19th century Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement, was known for his paintings of beautiful women with alabaster skin and bright colour on the cheeks. Just like one would contour the cheeks using a blush or a bronzer, Klimt used colour in the hollows of the cheek (both blurry or angular) to define the cheekbones of the women in his works. If contouring isn’t your thing, Klimt’s use of the right shades of red, blush and browns is an easy way to define your cheeks. Make-up artist Deepal Haria explains how to contour and get the rosy cheeks you see in Klimt’s paintings.

Get the look

Start with a luminous foundation that has good coverage and is a tone brighter than the original skin tone.

For sharper contouring, use a shade that is two-three shades darker than your skin. Now use an angled brush or a contouring brush and gently add colour below the cheeks. Use it on the forehead and nose too. Contouring usually depends on how the light falls on the face, creating shadows.

The blush on the cheeks should be extremely soft. Klimt usually did not define the lower lash line with black, and, in many paintings, you see a shade similar to that on the cheeks used on the lower lash line to create a soft shadow.

In his work Medicine, we see that the eyes are sharp. For this look, use a kohl pencil on the waterline; you can make it thicker with some eyeshadow just below the edge of the waterline. The eyelids can be left natural or you can use some natural eyeshadow shade.

Fill and define the eyebrows using your favourite brow products. Do not overdraw your brows, stick to enhancing your natural shape.

Use a shade of brown for the lipstick and add a little highlighter shade at the centre of the lips. We often see the blush and the colour on the lips match in Klimt’s portraits.

Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.


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