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Portrait of Mohan Lal with His Camera

India (Udaipur, Mewar, Rajasthan)

Not on view

One of the favored formats of early photographers in India was the carte-de-visite, a type of calling card avidly collected at the time that featured the owner’s portrait. Albumen prints almost always were used for these small format prints. The subject here is likely the painter-photographer Mohan Lal himself, posing with his camera and holding the lens cover in his hand. A number of Mohan Lal’s pictures are documented in the Udaipur City Palace photographic archives. Most courts either maintained a photographer in the same manner that court painters were employed in the household, or else, they increasingly turned to the services of commercial photographic studios, which arose rapidly in India.

About the Artist

Shivalal and Mohanlal
Active at Udaipur, second half of the 19th century; sons of Tara

A final phase of painting in Udaipur began under the rulers Sajjan Singh (r. 1874–84) and Fateh Singh (r. 1884–1930) and was influenced by both photography and examples of oil painting. In the ateliers, the brothers Shivalal and Mohanlal, sons of the painter Tara, followed different paths. A work is known that was produced by Shivalal in collaboration with his father in 1858. Shivalal specialized in hunting scenes, most of them created on location, in which the sequence of events is presented dramatically in an expansive landscape. In some of them, Shivalal himself is depicted, and in others, it is probably his brother Mohanlal (functioning as an assistant) who is shown. One of Shivalal’s greatest strengths is the realistic, topographically accurate rendering of hunting reserves and of the landscape around Udaipur.

The increasing realism in such depictions also called another medium into play —photography. The rulers of Jaipur and Alwar had already established photographic studios (photokhana) for the purpose of documenting the visits of dignitaries. Shivalal also worked with the new medium, not from behind the camera but rather as a painter, coloring the albumen prints, either with traditional Indian pigments or with oils. While some photographs were completely painted over, on others, only portions were colored, the faces, for example, or the regalia.

The medium of photography, with its immediacy and its accuracy, heralded the end of traditional painting. Painters at court were insufficiently prepared for the arrival of photography. Some artists tried to adopt the perspective and compositional schemes of photographs in their pictures, but with limited success. Inevitably, activities at court came to be recorded in the new medium. Even Mohanlal began to capture hunting scenes with a camera, marking the end of traditional picture making in the courts of India.

Portrait of Mohan Lal with His Camera, Albumen print, India (Udaipur, Mewar, Rajasthan)

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