Master of Traditional Indian Art – Sawlaram Lakshman Haldankar

It is often said that painting shows you the path of self-discovery. A good artist is one who paints what he is. And, one such good artist was Sawlaram Lakshman Haldankar. Sawlaram was an eminent Maharashtrian artist, who is renowned for his several portrait paintings. He is recognized for his finesse in creating intricately detailed portrait paintings.

Early Life and Schooling

Sawlaram Haldankar was born in 1882 into a Brahmin family of Sawantwadi, which is located in present day Maharashtra. During his early school days, he showed distinct skills in traditional Indian art. The headmaster of his school not only noticed Sawlaram’s interest, but he also sported the hidden artist in Sawlaram. He supported Sawlaram and even praised the talent of his student to the King of the Princely State of Sawantwadi. Sawlaram founded a patron in form of the King, who not only motivated the young lad, but also helped him financially to hone his skills.

After Sawlaram his schooling, he was given a scholarship to study at the prestigious Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. At Sir J.J. School of Art, he learned under the guidance of other eminent artists like Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar and Cecil Leonard Burns. He was well-accomplished in both water colors and oil paints, and had an exceptional mastery over traditional Indian art and portraits. After he graduated from the art school, he taught painting at the Sir J.J. School of Art for some years.

Awards and Accolades

While Sawlaram was still a student at the art school, he started exhibiting his works of art at different art galleries around Mumbai. He soon established himself as a distinguished artist who won several awards at a tender age. He won awards and accolades at various exhibitions that were held in Madras, Shimla and at other places in India. He was not only revered in India, but accolades also came in from the International art fraternity. He was honored with two commendation certificates by The Royal Society of British Artists, London. Later in his life, he even won the highly esteemed Governor’s prize.

By 1908, Sawlaram was counted amongst one the renowned artists in British India. By this time, he had participated in many exhibitions and had won several awards and accolades. The biggest acknowledgement and appreciation for Sawlaram was the Lalit Kala Academy Fellowship award. He received this award by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then president of India.

In 1908, Sawlaram started the Haldankars Fine Art Institute in Bombay (present day Mumbai). Ten years later, in 1918, he, along with his friends from the art fraternity like M.K. Parandekar and B.V. Talim founded the Art Society of India. Sawlaram was appointed the President of the Art Society and he served on the same position for many years. During his active years in art industry, he gained the highest repute. Throughout his career, he participated in several art activities and was associated with various important art committees and societies. He was appointed as the President of the Maharashtra Chitrakar Mandal. He was also an eminent member of the Hansa Mehta Committee for Re-organisation of Art Education.

Wrong Attributions with Raja Ravi Varma

Many consider Sawlaram as one of the best portrait artists in the history of Indian art. This attribution often leads to a comparison of his paintings with Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. In recent years, these comparisons have led to erroneous attribution of Sawlaram’s works. For example, his painting, ‘The Glow of Hope’ is usually mistaken for ‘Lady with the Lamp’ by Ravi Varma. The reason for this mistake could be the striking similarities in the painting style of both the artists. The fact that The Glow of Hope is exhibited close to the paintings of Ravi Varma at the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore could be the another reason.

Where we can see Sawlaram paintings?

There is no doubt that Sawlaram was an artist of distinct abilities, who loved to test his capabilities and experiment with his paintings. As a result, there are many works of art that are either incomplete or unsigned, but are attributed to the master of traditional Indian Art. Art lovers and students can who are keen to witness the beauty of his finished artworks can visit Delhi Art Gallery, Nagpur Museum and Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai. While these galleries and museums display most of his finished paintings, some of his incomplete and unsigned artworks can be seen at the Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore.