Amrita Sher-Gil

The Birth Centenary Celebrations of Amrita Sher-Gil was launched in February 2013 at the National Gallery of Modern Art. To celebrate the life and works of Amrita Sher-Gil, the Ministry of Culture, Government of India is organizing a series of events under the auspices of the Centenary Celebrations.

Here are some important points about her life and her work:

  • Known as India’s Frida Kahlo.
  • A 2006 auction made her most expensive woman painter of India.
  • Born in Hungary to a Sikh Aristocrat, mother was a Jewish opera singer from Hungary.
  • Trained in Europe as a painter, drew inspiration from European painters such as Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. Early paintings display a significant influence of the Western modes of painting with special influence of works of Hungarian painters, especially the Nagybanya School of painting.
  • The first important painting was “Young Girls“. This painting led to her election as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933, making her the youngest ever to have received this recognition.
  • She was greatly impressed and influenced by the Mughal and Pahari schools of painting and the cave paintings at Ajanta.
  • In 1937, she produced famous South Indian trilogy of paintings – “Bride’s Toilet“, “Brahmacharis” and “The South Indian Villagers”. By this time, her style had transformed and her paintings expressed the life of Indian people through her canvas.
  • While living in Saraya, Gorakhpur, she painted the “Village Scene”, “In the Ladies’ Enclosure” and “Siesta” all of which portray the leisurely rhythms of life in rural India. Siesta and In the Ladies’ Enclosure reflect her experimentation with the miniature school of painting while Village Scene reflects influences of the Pahari school of painting.
  • Initially, her painting found no buyers.
  • The Government of India has declared her works as National Art Treasures, and most of them are housed in the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.
  • Amrita was known for her many affairs with both men and women and many of the latter she also painted. Her work “Two Women” is thought to be a painting of herself and her lover Marie Louise.
  • A postage stamp depicting her painting ‘Hill Women’ was released in 1978 by India Post, and the Amrita Shergill Marg is a road in Lutyens’ Delhi named after her. In 2006, her painting “Village Scene” sold for ` 6.9 crores at an auction in New Delhi which was at the time the highest amount ever paid for a painting in India.
  • Her work is a key theme in the contemporary Indian novel “Faking It” by Amrita Chowdhury.

Important Paintings

  • Young Girls
  • Camels
  • Hill Women
  • Two Women
  • Hungarian Market Scene
  • Tribal Women
  • Two Elephants
  • Bride’s Toilet
  • Brahamcharis
  • The South Indian Villagers
  • In the Ladies’ Enclosure
  • Village Scene
  • Siesta

Amrita Shergill is the most celebrated artists to have decorated Indian art galleries with her paintings which were essentially Indian in essence done with Western strokes. She had a keen sense of colors and imagery. She also received formal training in painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, under Lucien Simon and was highly influenced by the European painters, like Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin.Her passion was fuelled by Indian ethos, culture and society of the contemporary world. She was born at Budapest in Hungary.
Her paintings also show an obvious shadow of Mughal and Pahari schools of art. Her quest for rediscovery of traditions of India brought her close to the cave paintings at Ajanta. The latter turned her inclination towards the classical Indian art. Some of her notable works which were deeply rooted in Indian rhythms were the portraiture of Village Scene, In the Ladies Enclosure and Siesta. Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) evolved a technique, which was essentially Indian in spirit and highlighted by emphasis on colour.
Many of works were an apt description of the plight of women in the colonial times which she both felt and empathised with. Her fondness for the Indian scenes was despite her family connections with the British. The content of her paintings evolved based on her experience of the Indian reality – the populace in distress, suppressed by the colonial rule and the poor neighbourhoods. She was the window of India onto the international expression in art.

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