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The exposition of the Indian Portrait is one of the most interesting and recurrent phenomenon that has happened to Ahmedabad in all its thirteen editions since 2010. We have not been short in our praise of Anil Relia and his Archer Art Gallery who are both responsible for first raising a collection of artworks in this genre of art and then visualizing this series for distinct shows in its several segments and varied manifestations so far for the benefit of the art fraternity and art lovers.
The last two shows under editions XI and XII were held in March 2021 – just when the Second Wave of Corona was almost hitting the world too badly – and November 2021 when we saw the photographic portraits by Jyoti Bhatt of his contemporaries and prints produced by Chitrashala of Pune respectively. The collector-curator Relia had again indicated even as he had just served up the latest series then, that he was not done yet; and that he had still more up his sleeve to show in the times to come.
So here we have the man come up with the XIII Edition of the Indian Portrait comprising of the works created by the Bourne & Shepherd Studio, India. The show opened on Tuesday, November 15 at the Amdavad ni Gufa as in the past.
The show this time is based on a unique album of 96 Carte de Visite – abbreviated as CdV – collected by an unnamed Collector from the late nineteenth century and now in the pride possession of Relia. To understand the format, the CdV is a small portrait photo of the size of 4” by 2.5 “ that derived its name in French from a similar sized visiting card. The name was eventually got patented by photography pioneer Eugene Disderi in 1854 though it was first used by Louis Dodero sometime earlier.
The central and key element to the album and eventually the present Show is that all the photographs collected in the album were taken by the professional photographers of the photographic studio Bourne & Shepherd who had set up shop first in Calcutta and later in Shimla both capitals of the British Raj, though they seem to have accepted and executed assignments for taking portraits of the Indian royalty in their respective capitals also, which is borne out by the presence or absence of unique studio props in the related photos.
Be that as it may, such small sized photos of these rulers then became available for collection in pocket albums by people at large. There was a huge market for this popular format as the number of copies of such CdVs of all kinds sold is estimated to be 30 crore as per Pramod Kumar KG’s lucid and very analytical introduction in the mini book brought out to mark the XIII th Edition.
The keen collector of portraits that Relia has been, he landed himself with this variety also during the long course of his acquisitions for his series. The album of CdVs used for the current show and displayed in a glass box centrally in the Gallery contains the photographs of mostly the royalty of the Indian subcontinent including Nepal and a few photos of philanthropist/s as also of some chieftains and feudal landlords.
The collection under reference also includes photos of seven distinguished women which has ladies of the Gaekwad clan of Baroda and two wives of a Nepali PM. The photographs are assumed to have been taken as a run up to the declaration of Queen Victoria as the Empress of India in 1877 and a consequent assemblage at Delhi.
The show of this rare variety of small photographic portraits within the great saga of the Indian Portrait couldn’t have been possible with the originals. The Curators Relia and Shalvi Agarwal therefore produced quality enlargements of these photos, arranged them as two-in-one frames in the same order as in the original album, searched and added the biographical details of the Rulers concerned and they were ready for the show! It’s taken the team one year – while also concurrently attending to the Archer’s varied responsibilities – to return with this new Edition.
A pretty good show with 48 frames and 96 portraits, this one takes you back in history with details of the rulers of the mid and late nineteenth century. This show has a substantial share of the princely states and thikanas of what we know as Gujarat of today. The show therefore should have an added appeal on this count for the local visitors.
The show goes on till November 20th.
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