A pioneer in modern Indian art | Amrita Sher-Gil (1913 – 1941)

Amrita (right) with her sister Indira, as photographed by their father Umrao

Amrita Sher-Gil (1913 –1941) was an eminent Hungarian-Indian painter. She has been called 
"one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century" and a "pioneer" in 
modern Indian art. Drawn to painting at a young age, Sher-Gil started getting formal lessons 
in the art, at the age of eight. Sher-Gil first gained recognition at the age of 19, for her oil 
painting entitled Young Girls (1932) 

Amrita Sher-Gil, Young Girls, 1932

Sher-Gil traveled throughout her life to countries including Turkey, France, and India, 
deriving heavily from their art styles and cultures. Sher-Gil is considered an important 
woman painter of 20th-century India, whose legacy stands on a level with that of the 
pioneers of Bengal Renaissance. She was also an avid reader and a pianist. Sher-Gil's 
paintings are among the most expensive by Indian women painters today, although 
few acknowledged her work when she was alive.

Amrita Sher-Gil (1913 –1941) 

The daughter of a Sikh aristocrat and a Hungarian opera singer, painter Amrita Sher-Gil grew up 
in an unconventional household given the time and place in history.  While she was born in 
Budapest, Hungary in 1913, Amrita moved back and forth between India and Europe as a 
young girl, studying art and taking up painting along the way. At age 16,  she moved to Paris
 and settled down for a moment to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While classes proved to 
be more formal than she was used to, her rebellious nature led her to explore all that 
bohemian Paris had to offer. During these years, she openly explored her sexuality, 
having relationships with both men and women. She also experimented with her personal 
style, wearing typical 1920s Western fashions one day and traditional Indian saris the next.

with her pictures, date unknown

Sher-Gil was in France for five years, a critical cornerstone of her career and life. It was during
this rich formative period that she began to paint with oils. Her work captured the European
academic realism of France of the 1920s and 30s. She was an admirer of the French artist
Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938) and drew inspiration from her unconventional representation
of her female subjects. Valadon was known for her powerful and sometimes controversial
paintings, often of female nudes and self-portraits, and rose to the peak of her fame in the
1920s in Paris just as Sher-Gil was exploring the Parisian art scene and finding her own style.
 Valadon transformed the genre of the female nude by providing an insightful expression of
women’s experiences, which seemed just the right language for Sher-Gil in her formative
adult life as an artist.

Self-Portrait as Tahitian, 1934                                                            Amrita Sher-Gil,  Sumair (Amrita’s cousin) 1936

At around the same time as Sher-Gil, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was painting powerful self-portraits 
in Mexico. They are both considered among the greatest avant-garde women artists practicing in 
the early 20th century. The parallel artistic careers and personal lives of Sher-Gil and Kahlo are
 uncanny. Each of them obsessively painted self-portraits with an intensity that is almost hypnotic,
 drawing the viewer into the innermost psyche of the artist, where one discovers a sea of melancholy
 and tragic poetry. (...)

Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled (In the Garden), 1938                    Self Portrait with Long Hair India, 1939
Self-Portrait, France, 1928                                  Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1931
Amrita Sher-Gil, Winter, 1939
Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled, 1923
(when she was 10 years old)
Amrita Sher-Gil, photographed by Victor Egan, 1938


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