Ghasiram Hardev Sharma
One of the chief painters and photographers associated with the Shrinathji Temple at Nathdwara, Rajasthan, Ghasiram Hardev Sharma was a significant figure in the Indian art practice of the nineteenth century. He worked under the head priest and his foremost patron, Tilkayat Govardhanlalji. One of the most prolific Nathdwara artists, he undertook mural paintings for the Raja of Jhalawar, and went on to head the painting department as its mukhiya (chief).
Together with his apprentice Narottam Narayan Sharma and associate Hiralal Udayaram, Sharma’s embrace of photography consolidated a particular style within his studio. The Ghasiram studio offered the devotees of Shrinathji (Krishna in the form of a seven-year-old child) an opportunity to have their portraits made, prints of which they could take back as souvenirs from their pilgrimage. These portraits were likely used as references for manorath paintings, which were commissioned by patrons to depict themselves in worship inside the Shrinathji shrine.
Photographs became a very crucial visual source around the mid 1970s and entered the repertoire of Nathdwara artists. While photographic conventions didn’t supplant the prevailing visual style, rather, it broadened representational possibilities for the artist. Notably, it offered them an opening to develop a photographic aesthetic, where they could render portraits with Photorealistic semblance and Naturalism. This photorealism was distinct from hyperrealism — the artists sought to replicate even the black and white monochromatic tonality of the photographs and chose to paint over it in thin veils of colour. In addition to photography, the Ghasiram studio’s photorealism was also shaped by an encounter with the Academic Realism in the work of Raja Ravi Varma in Udaipur, after which he is said to have begun using oil paints. Khubiram Gopilal, another prolific Nathdwara artist, was also influenced by Varma and some of his earlier works are considered replicas of Varma’s chromolithographs. At a time when realism was elevated to a formal style, the integration of photography with Academic Realism was instrumental to the aspirations of many royal patrons in India.
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