Asit Kumar Haldar
A noted painter and sculptor of the Bengal School, Asit Kumar Haldar is known for incorporating Hindu and Buddhist Revivalist imagery as well as Indian art historical narratives in his work. Haldar worked across mediums, primarily oil painting, watercolour and tempera, before developing a unique process for lacquered painting on wood.
Born in the Tagore household at Jorasanko, Calcutta (now Kolkata), Haldar was Rabindranath Tagore’s grandnephew and was introduced early to literature and mythology. In 1904, he began training as one of Abanindranath Tagore’s earliest pupils at the Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta, where he studied alongside Nandalal Bose, Sunayani Devi and Mukul Dey.
From 1909 to 1911, Haldar, along with Nandalal Bose and Samarendranath Gupta, copied the cave paintings at Ajanta upon invitation from British copyist and mural technique expert Christiana J Herringham and commissioned by the India Society of London. In 1921, Haldar accompanied Herringham to the Bagh Caves and published his findings in a 1923 article for the art journal Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. Haldar specifically described the Buddhist chaityas, comparing the semicircular arrangement of the caves to sites like Pompeii and the characterisation of horses in frescoes to the work of fifteenth-century Italian masters. His documentation of these sites propelled his interest in Indian cultural and religious history, which was reflected in later works, including Shiva and Parvati, Untitled (Krishna) (c. 1940), Rasalila, Shilpir Mohavanga and other exploratory paintings inspired by Ajanta and Bagh. He also made a series of paintings on the life of the Buddha as well as thirty paintings on Indian history.
As a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance, Haldar’s career aligns with the Bengal School’s examination of India’s past. His work reflects the influence of Mughal and Pahari miniatures and is characterised by intricate detail and the representation of religious and mythological themes. Several of Haldar’s most renowned works also reflect the influence of the murals, architecture and ornamentation of cave frescoes in Jogimara, Ajanta and Bagh. In addition to visual art, Haldar was involved in a number of literary projects, including the translation of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and Ritusamhara to Bengali. He also wrote several poems and illustrated the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam.
From 1911–15, Haldar assisted Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan and also served as the first official principal of Kala Bhavana from 1919 to 1923. In 1923, he toured Europe and, upon his return, became the principal of the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Lucknow. He was the first Indian to be made the principal of the Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta, as well as the first Indian artist to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, in 1934.
Haldar remained committed to educational reform programs throughout his career and continued painting through the 1950s. In 1938, a large collection of his work was displayed at the Allahabad Museum’s Haldar Hall. His work has also been exhibited at the Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata (2014), and the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad (2014), and are part of the collections of the Indian Museum, Kolkata; the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi; and the Delhi Art Gallery.
He died in 1964 in Lucknow.
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