An account of a veteran painter's life and work

Born on August 13, 1915 in Lahore, Madhav Shripad Satwalekar is considered to be one of the doyens of Contemporary Indian Art. The veteran painter is the subject of a new book penned by art critic and historian Sadhana Bahulkar. The book was recently released at Mumbai's Lokmanya Seva Sangh in the presence of art lovers and those who have followed the veteran artist's works over the years. Artist Vasudev Kamat, one of the speakers, lauded the veteran artist for his contribution to Indian art.

In the seventies and the eighties, Satwalekar served as the Director of Art, Maharashtra State. He is also the co-founder of the Indian Art Institute for spreading awareness of art. Many private and public Institutions in India and abroad feature the artist's work. He has also authored several articles and published booklets on art.

He had rich legacy left behind by his father, Pandit S. D. Satwalekar, a renowned turn-of-the-century painter and a Vedic scholar. Determined to carry forward the legacy, Madhav Satwalekar first studied at Sir J.J. School of Art, before moving to Europe (1937 to 1940) to study at Florence Academy (Italy), Slade School (London) and Academic Grand Chamiers (Paris). He won the Mayo Medal in 1935.

The book by Bahulkar is divided in two broad sections. The first part of it maps Satwalekar's development as an artist in the mid-forties and revives the memories of his first exhibition on his return in 1945, at the Taj in Mumbai, which was a testimony to his talent perfected by years of creative learning. Having imbibed cultural catholicity through his interaction with the great artists of the time, he returned to his homeland to start his professional career. Taking us back to the glory days, the book looks into the reclusive painter's life, and provides a peep into the process of making of a legendary artist. There's also a pictorial treat for readers in form of some exquisite images of the artist's work.

Since then Satwalekar has had over 30 solo shows in Europe, Middle East, in Uganda, Kenya, Trazania and Zanzibar (1949 - 50) apart from shows in India. Satwalekar had had an exhibition of watercolors in 1998 at Sans Tache Art Gallery. Though known better for his oils, for this particular exhibition he chose architectural views of Rajasthan. The 45 watercolor works on display had brush ranges over the fields, villages and ancient structures of Rajasthan.

Sadhana Bahulkar in her book gives a meticulous account of the veteran painter's artistic sojourn, and tells us how his painting style, which was essentially tuned to India's cultural ethos, evolved over the years. Surprisingly, having been amidst an influential cultural milieu in the West, Satwalekar's paintings bespeak the language of the land, its customs, its pastimes, and primarily its people.

The author does not limit herself to merely portraying the artist, and gives us a kaleidoscopic view of the art scene then. This lets us put the artist's work and philosophy in a proper perspective. The book tells us how the late forties and the early fifties marked a definite change in the history of Contemporary Indian art, and then delves into the development of Satwalekar as an artist.

During those times portrait and landscape painting, both in oil and watercolor, used to enjoy public patronage, and narrates: Just as traditional mythological subjects were depicted in art, the everyday life of the common man was also finding an expression in art. Sophistication of both oil and watercolor was seen in the superlative achievements of the likes of A X Trindade, Agaskar, and Fernandes.

It was during this period that the career of Satwalekar grew in stature and substance. J.D. Gondhalekar, M.R. Achrekar, N.S.Bendre. K. K. Hebbar, M. S. Joshi. P. A. Dhond and Shankar Palshikar were among his illustrious contemporaries. He began with portraits and landscapes creating compositions with remarkable freshness and conviction. Whatever the genre, the influence of European realism is evident in his work.

He, however, gradually evolved a highly individualized visual metaphor and appreciation the aesthetic content in his familiar and immediate environment. Lucid palettes, a decisive draughtsmanship, a command of the varied landscape and of the sensuously posed female form have been the hallmarks of Satwalekar's meticulously cultivated style.

The second part of the book comprises speeches, lectures and essays by Satwalekar who generally lets his canvasses speak for himself. Even at the age of 89, he continues to paint and exhibit his inimitable paintings with undiminished verve. His presence leaves you with a remarkable feeling of calmness and contentedness of a journey fulfilled, as is pointed out in the new book that maps his artistic sojourn.

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