Amrita Sher-Gil - The Avant-Garde Artist


Amrita Sher-Gil (30 January 1913 – 5 December 1941) was a Hungarian-Indian artist.Her father, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, a Sanskrit and Persian scholar and aristocrat of Jat, and her mother, Marie Antoinette Gottesmann, a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer who came from a wealthy bourgeois family.


In Hungary, her family faced financial difficulties. Her family moved to Summer Hill, Shimla, India, in 1921. Sher-Gil soon started learning piano and violin at the age of nine, giving concerts and performing in Shimla. She had been a painter since she was five years old, and she officially began to study painting at the age of eight. Sher-Gil began to take formal training in art from Major Whitmarsh, who was later succeeded by Beven Pateman. Sher-Gil lived a comparatively affluent lifestyle in Shimla. As a child, she was expelled for declaring herself an atheist from her convent school. She would also paint the servants in her house when she was a young girl, and get them to pose for her. Memories of these models would finally lead to her return to India.


Sher-Gil sailed to Europe at the age of sixteen, with her mother studying as a painter in Paris, first under Pierre Vaillent and Lucien Simon at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and then at the École des Beaux-Arts (1930–34).


Young Girls, 1932, oil on canvas

Amrita's works expressed in their western presence during the early stages of her career and her approach was close to those performed in Bohemia's circles.


She produced 'young girls' at this time which became well recognized and appreciated. One of her professors predicted that her works would have more significance in the East instead of in the West, judging by the rich colors which she used frequently on her paintings. She soon realized her teacher's wish when she returned to India after having unexpectedly been eager to return to India.



Amrita Sher-Gil returned to India in 1934 and started her never-ending quest of seeking to decipher the practices of Indian art. In 1937, she began her journey to the southern parts of India and was profoundly touched by the plight of many peasants and unprivileged people. This was mirrored in her work and finally produced paintings such as ‘Brahmacharis’, ‘Bride's Toilet’ and ‘South Indian Villagers Going to Market’.


"I can only paint in India. Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque. India belongs to me."- Amrita Sher-Gil

Her technique and style were nowhere near the works she had in Paris. Amrita's art had learned to reflect Indian values. Her job in India, after her marriage, in the following years, had an immense influence on Indian art. Her work also had topics reflecting the dire status of the unprivileged in the world and women.


She also was the youngest and only Asian artist to be chosen as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. She was awarded a gold medal in Paris for her work 'Female People,' which was considered a coveted honor there.


Amrita left this world in 1941, at the age of 28, following a debilitating illness that saw her fall into coma. While the true explanation for her death has never been known, it has been said that a failed abortion may have caused her to die.

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