When fashion photographer Rohit Chawla set out to recreate Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s famous painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the easiest bit was finding the perfect model. Given her face structure, actor Chitrangada Singh made for the ideal Adele Bloch-Bauer, the Viennese socialite who was also Klimt’s patron and friend. The hardest part? Everything else.
“The Klimt painting was fairly elaborate to replicate,” says Chawla. “The entire set was created in layers. First the dress that Chitrangada is wearing was created in a Plaster of Paris mould. Once she was standing behind it, we created the Egyptian motifs Klimt used in the painting. Her hairdo itself was a problem and the makeup artist had to recreate that geometric form,” he says.
The end result is a stunning photograph that is captivating in itself even if you are unfamiliar with Klimt’s original. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I aka The Lady in Gold is one among 13 such reconstructed compositions of Klimt’s works by Chawla. His 2012 Klimt series, along with similar recreations of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma (2011), Frida Kahlo (2014) and a new miniature series (2015) are currently on display at an exhibition The Inspired Frame at the Bikaner House in New Delhi.
“All these works are my tribute to the artists, “ says Chawla. “I like doing portraits and the idea of replicating Raja Ravi Varma’s incredible portraits of women in a photographic idiom is what started me on this exercise,” he says. The photographs in the Raja Ravi Varma series are life-like replicas of the original portraits, substituting Varma’s women with contemporary models and in some cases well-known faces like Anoushka Ravishankar, Feroze Gujral, Ayesha Thapar Arora.
But it was in the Frida Kahlo series, where Chawla reconstructs the Mexican painter’s famous surreal self portraits, that he began to improvise. “My photographs with Mithu Sen [Me and My Doll] and Tara Roy [Self portrait with Cropped Hair] aren’t exact replicas but my own interpretations,” he says. The Fridas featured in the 12 portraits include Neha Dhupia, Lisa Haydon, Tishani Doshi, the late Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor, Konkana Sen Sharma — all sporting that now famous unibrow.
The fourth segment of the exhibition are staged photographs of miniature portraits from the 17th and 18th centuries with the subjects mostly depicted sitting in side profiles. The sets, costumes and accessories in each series were meticulously created and put together. In some pictures where the background was too elaborate to replicate (as in the case of the nautch girls miniature or the one featuring hotelier Aman Nath as The Dying Inayat Khan), the photograph was shot in the actual physical setting. While Sabyasachi Mukherjee made the costumes for the Frida Kahlo series, Tarun Tahiliani designed the clothes for the Ravi Varma series as well as the miniatures (he also features in one). The exhibition is being hosted by Tasveer art gallery and will be travelling to Mumbai in April. The project was supported by the Bird Group.
What: The Inspired Frame
When: March 10-18, 2017
Where: Bikaner House, Pandara Road, Pandara Flats, India Gate, New Delhi
Timings: Monday to Sunday, 10:30 am to 6:30 pm
Nearest Metro station: Khan Market Metro Station
Follow @htlifeandstyle for more.