Art has the remarkable ability to transcend time, capturing emotions and narratives that resonate with viewers across generations. In the rich tapestry of Indian art, S.L. Handalkar emerges as a luminary, casting his brushstrokes upon the canvas of history. With delicate precision, Handalkar weaves tales of beauty, introspection, and hope. In this exploration, we delve into his artistic genius and his captivating composition of perhaps one of his best paintings, ‘Woman with a Lamp’.
S.L. Handalkar (1882-1968) emerged as a visionary in the realm of Indian art, leaving an indelible mark on the artistic landscape of his era. Hailing from Sawantwadi in southern India, Handalkar honed his skills at the prestigious Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai. Inspired by his surroundings and the diverse tapestry of Indian life, he developed a distinctive style characterized by luminous colors and intricate brushwork. Handalkar’s body of work encompasses a rich array of subjects and themes. His paintings celebrate the vibrancy of Indian life, portraying scenes of everyday existence, spiritual pursuits, and cultural traditions. With each brushstroke, Handalkar revealed the beauty and complexity of his homeland, inviting viewers to explore the essence of Indian culture and humanity itself. Alongside ‘Woman with a Lamp’, Handalkar’s illustrious oeuvre encompasses notable works such as ‘Divine Flame’, ‘The Mahomaden Pilgrim’, and ‘Early Morning at Chowpatty’ each a testament to his mastery.
‘Woman with a Lamp’, also known as ‘Glow of Hope’ was painted in the 1920s. It is kept at the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery in the enchanting Jaganmohan Palace of Mysore, India. This prestigious gallery showcases a remarkable collection of Indian art, providing a fitting backdrop for ‘Woman with a Lamp’ to captivate and inspire visitors with its transcendent beauty. The painting is kept in an enclave with a curtained window. This darkened room, highlights the glowing brass lamp that the woman is holding. When the curtains are opened, one sees another side to the painting, showing the subtle shades of pink and lavender in the girl’s saree. The natural light, highlight so many of the other exquisite details of the painting.
Handalkar’s artistry unveils itself with a captivating interplay of grace and subtlety. At the heart of the composition, the central figure delicately cradles a lamp in one hand, while the other hand shields its glow from the wind. This gentle gesture illuminates her countenance, enveloping it with an ethereal serenity. The minimalist backdrop directs our gaze towards her, allowing us to delve into the depths of her contemplative presence. As a soft shadow dances in the background, it accentuates the radiant aura surrounding the young girl. Handalkar’s meticulous attention to detail and thoughtful use of negative space create an atmosphere of tranquility, inviting viewers to explore the painting’s hidden nuances.
Often mistaken for an oil portrait, ‘Woman with a Lamp’ reveals Handalkar’s mastery in an unexpected medium: watercolors. Unlike the forgiving nature of oils, watercolors demand precision and finesse, leaving no room for error. Each brushstroke carries the weight of intention, as Handalkar navigates the delicate balance of paint and water. A virtuoso of the medium, he orchestrates the perfect harmony, defying the limitations imposed by watercolors.
In this luminous masterpiece, Handalkar seems to defy expectations, as if challenging the world to witness the extraordinary possibilities of the seemingly unforgiving medium. With a delicate touch and a discerning eye for color, he layers translucent pigments with an expertise that borders on the magical. The result is a symphony of ethereal hues, casting a mesmerizing glow that permeates every corner of the canvas.
As light dances upon the subject, it collides with shadow, giving birth to an otherworldly aura. The translucency of the watercolors allows the light to penetrate, creating a radiant luminescence that adds depth and texture to the subject’s serene countenance.
Handalkar’s prowess in the watercolor medium is not merely a technical achievement but a testament to his unwavering dedication to his craft. With great precision, he transforms the delicate pigments into a symphony of emotions, elevating ‘Woman with a Lamp’ to a realm of artistic brilliance where the boundaries of what can be achieved with watercolors are transcended.
The subject of the painting holds a deeply personal connection for Handalkar – it is a portrait of his daughter, Gita Handalkar. The story unfolds on a Diwali evening, as a radiant 13-year-old Gita gracefully emerged from the room, carrying a flickering lamp in her hands. Enchanted by the beauty and significance of the moment, Handalkar’s artistic instincts were instantly ignited, compelling him to capture this ephemeral scene and immortalize it on canvas.
In this intimate portrayal, Handalkar skillfully encapsulates the essence of Gita – her poise, her resilience, and the inner radiance that emanates from her very being. Beyond a mere visual depiction, the painting becomes a profound tribute to the timeless bond between a father and his child, transcending the boundaries of art itself.
Having known his subject intimately, Handalkar possessed an unparalleled ability to capture the nuanced intricacies of every feature, breathing life into the canvas with a remarkable sense of realism. As viewers engage with the painting, they are drawn into the captivating world that Handalkar beheld through his eyes – a world brimming with tranquility and comfort. Gita’s serene countenance reflects the profound sense of calm and security that only a father’s unconditional love can provide. In the presence of such unwavering devotion, a child finds solace and discovers their truest potential.
Through the painting, Handalkar invites us to witness the power of paternal love, an extraordinary force that not only sees but also celebrates the inherent beauty and potential within a child. It is a testament to the unwavering support and encouragement that a father bestows, enabling a child to blossom and thrive.
S.L. Handalkar’s ‘Woman with a Lamp’ stands as a testament to the artist’s mastery of watercolors, his profound connection to his subject, and his ability to evoke a sense of inner serenity. As we immerse ourselves in this captivating artwork, we are reminded of the power of art to transcend time, bridging the gap between artist and viewer. Through Handalkar’s deft strokes, the painting invites us to contemplate the bonds that connect us, the illumination that resides within, and the enduring beauty of the human spirit.
Written by Priyanka Anna George
Life Focus Society
Culture Unraveled is an initiative of Life Focus Society