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Asit Kumar Haldar

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1890, Jorasanko, West Bengal, India
Died 1964, India
Lived and worked in Santiniketan, West Bengal, India

Asit Haldar is best known for his mythological subject matter depicted in art and literature in a narrative style with lyrical fluidity, beauty and grace. He was involved in projects at Ajanta caves, Bagh and Jogimara caves for copying ancient artworks, whereby he discovered his own vocation and flair.  He subsequently developed a new technique of lacquering paint on wood known as lacit.



Government School of Art, Calcutta, India

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Early life and the Tagore connection

A pillar figure of the Bengal School and Shantiniketan, Asit Kumar Haldar had ties to the Tagore family. He was born in Jorasanko and had familial ties to Rabindranath Tagore, who was his grandmother's brother. Haldar was instrumental in establishing the Kala Bhawan (Art's faculty) at Shantiniketan, where he served as the Principal from 1911-23, promoting various cultural activities with Rabindranath Tagore.

Many of his works are symbolical and lyrical in nature, due to which he often illustrated Rabindranath Tagore's literary works and conversely, Tagore's works often took inspiration from Haldar's work.

"It is freedom when your spirit conjures up a vision from the inert, to illuminate its every line with the flame of your devotion. You have the magic of life's touch in your eyes and your dream has come out in a creation in which are made one, my form and your delight," said the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore of the late Asit Kumar Haldar's sculptures.

Kala Bhawan at Shantiniketan

Source of inspiration and preoccupation with mythological subject matter

In 1909, Haldar along with Nandalal Bose was invited by Christina Herringham, a British expert on mural techniques, to copy the cave paintings at Ajanta. Apart from the fluid and lyrical beauty of the subjects, the concept of depicting a narrative in art had a massive impact on Haldar. Subsequently, he undertook similar expeditions at the Buddhist caves of Bagh and Jogimara, copying frescoes while retaining his own distinctive style. Drawing upon the rich cultural heritage of India, he painted 32 paintings based on Buddha, thirty canvases on episodes from Indian history, illustrations of Omar Khayyam's verses as well as his deeply spiritual interpretations of Mahabharata. This diversified and unique understanding of Indian history and mythology brought him to the attention of both critics and public.

Asit Haldar, Untitled, watercolor on paper

Innovation, amalgamation and creation in the field of style

Aspects of Rajput and Pahari miniature paintings find a way into Haldar's work. The emphasis on detail and precision in technique and the prominence of mythological, historical and literary themes in art can all be found in Haldar's work. However, it was not a blind imitation of the old but an innovation of a uniquely nouveau style amalgamating the old with something new.

Haldar worked with equal ease in oil, tempera, watercolors and a special technique that he developed called 'lacit'-lacquered painting on wood.

The use of mythological and literary styles in art gave his works an unprecedented grace and beauty. He studied European Realism on his visit to Europe in 1923 and sculpture from Leonard Jennings. He realized that European Realism has several limitations and sought to balance the spiritual attributes of the subject in proportion to the physical appearance.

Asit Haldar, Young Krishna being fed by Yashoda, water color

Asit Haldar, A Mystery, 1940, Watercolour on lacit-lacquer on board

Haldar and the Literary World

From the translation of iconic works like Kalidasa's Meghadoota and Ritusamhara into Bengali to his own compositions in Bengali and English, his artistic practice extends beyond the visual arts. His Bengali compositions include Ajanta (A travalogue to the Caves of Ajanta), Ho-der Galpo (The life and culture of the Ho tribe), Bagh Guha and Ramgarh (Another travalogue to the Bagh Cave and Ramgarh in Central India). “Art and Tradition” and “Our Heritage in Art" are some examples of his English writings. He also wrote a few in Hindi like “Rup Darshika.”