Amrita Sher-Gil is a Hungarian Indian Painter who has been one of the greatest in the 20th century. Let’s celebrate the birthday of this talented artist on 30th January.

Amrita Sher-Gil is a Hungarian Indian painter. She had been called “one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century” and a “pioneer” in modern Indian art. Her painting adorned images of people’s everyday life.

Amrita Sher-Gil was born on 30 January 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her father was Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia who was an Indian Punjabi Sikh aristocrat. He was a scholar in Sanskrit and Persian. Her mother was Marie Antoinette Gottesmann, a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer. Amrita spent her early childhood in Budapest and later moved to Shimla India. She started pursuing art at an early age itself. Her uncle Ervin Baktay was the one who recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue arts. By age eight, Amrita started getting formal lessons in arts.

When she was sixteen-year-old Amrita went to Paris and trained as a painter there. She was exposed to many great artists there. While in Paris, she was said to have painted with maturity and conviction rarely seen in a sixteen-year-old.

Amrita Sher-Gil’s earlier paintings had a western more influence. Her painting ‘Young Girls’ which came in 1932 gained her much recognition. This work won many awards which included a golden medal. And in 1933, she was selected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. She was the youngest ever member and the only Asian to have received this recognition.

At the end of 1934, inspired to find her roots, Amrita Sher-Gil returned to India. She left for travel through India in 1936 and the painting that came after had the touch of Indian life in them. In 1937 she travelled through South India and this gave away to the three paintings – Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis, and South Indian Villagers Going to Market. Her visit to the Ajanta caves prompted her to return to classical Indian arts. These later paintings revealed her passion for her Indian subjects. She made it a mission in her life to depict the life of Indian people through her art.

When she was 25 Amrita married her first cousin Viktor Egan. They both settled down in Saraya where Amrita’s paternal home was. When she was in Saraya Amrita painted the paintings – the Village Scene, In the Ladies’ Enclosure, and Siesta. All of these had roots in rural India. Although her family was inclined towards the British Raj, Amrita found herself supporting the Congress and she admired Gandhiji’s lifestyle and teachings. Nehru had visited her, impressed by her paintings and Amrita was later friends with Nehru.

In 1941, at age 28, just days before the opening of her first major solo show in Lahore, Amrita Sher-Gil became seriously ill and slipped into a coma. She died around midnight on 5 December 1941. Her last work was left unfinished.

Sher-Gil’s art has influenced generations of Indian artists and her depiction of the predicament of women has made her art a beacon for women at large.

Poorna Krishnan

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