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Amrita Sher-Gil

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1913, Budapest, Hungary
Died 1941, Lahore, British India (present day Pakistan)
Lived and worked in Paris, France and later in Amritsar and Shimla in India and Lahore, now in Pakistan

Amrita Sher-Gil, an Indo-Hungarian artist, combined European technique of oil painting with Indian miniature style and cave painting tradition of Ajanta. Self-portraits form a large corpus of her collection and her poignant depiction of life and people complete her oeuvre.

Education

1929

The Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris (Tutee of P.Vaillant)

1929

Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris (Tutee of Luican Simon)

1924

School of Santa Annunciata, Florence, Italy

 

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Amrita Sher-Gil

Merging of European traditions with ancient Indian art

Having received her training at Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, the Indian Hungarian artist set off for India in 1934, declaring "Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque and many others. India belongs only to me".
Self Portrait with Easel, 1930, and Young Girls, 1932, painted in the European academic tradition underwent change once she returned to India when she turned her gaze to Indian subjects. Her oil paintings combines her European education, especially the post-Impressionist style of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, with the colours of Mughal miniatures, Pahari miniatures and the Buddhist cave paintings at Ajanta. The firmly moulded form of the frescoes of Ajanta began to be assimilated in a painting like The Bride’s Toilet and in her masterpiece Brahmacharis.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Young Girls, 1932, oil on canvas, 52.36 x 64.5”.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Brahmacharis, oil on canvas, 56.69 x 34”.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Bride’s Toilet, oil on canvas, 56.88 x 33.88”.

Her representation of Indian women expresses a deep felt empathy

Amrita Sher-Gil painted the inner world of women like few other Indian painters had, depicting them in countless moods and forms . In her family estate at Saraya, she painted the group of Three Girls, 1935, in bright clothes with melancholic expressions, who in spite of sitting in close proximity to each other appear isolated.  In Woman Resting on a Charpoy, 1940, she reflects the private feminine world of a woman lying on a bed in repose. However, behind the calm exterior there is turmoil of suppressed desires. Similarly, The Child Wife, 1936, and the Portrait of the Bride, 1940, are depictions of grace and tedium of the daily lives of women.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Three Girls, 1935, oil on canvas.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Woman Resting on a Charpoy, 1940, oil on canvas, 33.46 x 28.5”.

Red and white are the strongest in her palette

Having mastered the western oil painting technique, her depiction of rural life and people took a warmer, earthier tone. Sher-Gil had a special fascination for the colour red that is evident as it stands out against the dark tones of her background or is often contrasted with green and white. An exceptional use of white always marks Amrita's paintings . In Village Scene, 1938, the white of the women's clothes glimmer against their dark bodies and the white walls in the backdrop create halos around their heads, adding a quiet drama to the composition. Likewise, the white veil worn in the foreground stands out in contrast to the other garments in Hill Women, 1935.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Hill Women, 1935, oil on canvas.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Village Scene, 1938, oil on canvas.

Role-playing with different attires and poses in Self-portraits

In Self-Portrait with Easel, 1930, Sher-Gil captures herself painting and confidently returning the gaze of the viewer while Self-Portrait as a Tahitian, 1934, is her nude self-portrait inspired by Gauguin’s paintings of Tahitian women , thus taking on many roles- from a bold nude to that of a demure sari clad woman. In a few of her portraits, she flaunts a blunt haircut while in others she has strands on her forehead, dressed as a devdasi - whom she describes as "prostitutes of gods" . This artistic agenda for her in role-playing would make her a forerunner as a performance artist.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Self-Portrait with Easel, 1930, oil on canvas, 35.43 x 25”.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Self-Portrait as Tahitian, 1934, oil on canvas.

Bibliography