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Amrita Sher-Gil
Sher-Gil in an ornate gown and jewelry
Born (1913-01-30)30 January 1913
Died 5 December 1941(1941-12-05) (aged 28)
Nationality Hungarian / Indian
Education Grande Chaumiere
École des Beaux-Arts (1930–34)
Known for Painting

Amrita Sher-Gil (30 January 1913 – 5 December 1941) was an renowned Hungarian-Indian painter, she has been called "one of the greatest innovative women artists of the early 20th century" and a "pioneer" in modern Indian art.

Early life and education

Amrita with Indira 1922
Amrita with her sister Indira, 1922

Amrita Sher-Gil was born on 30 January 1913 in Budapest in the Kingdom of Hungary, to Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, an Indian Jat Sikh aristocrat from the Majithia family and a scholar in Sanskrit and Persian, and Marie Antoinette Gottesmann, a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer who came from an affluent bourgeois family. Her parents first met in 1912, while Marie Antoinette was visiting Lahore. Her mother came to India as a companion of Princess Bamba Sutherland, the granddaughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Sher-Gil was the elder of two daughters; her younger sister was Indira Sundaram (née Sher-Gil; born in March 1914), mother of the contemporary artist Vivan Sundaram. She spent most of her early childhood in Budapest. She was the niece of Indologist Ervin Baktay. Baktay noticed Sher-Gil's artistic talents during his visit to Shimla in 1926 and was an advocate of Sher-Gil pursuing art. He guided her by critiquing her work and gave her an academic foundation to grow on. When she was a young girl she would paint the servants in her house, and get them to model for her. The memories of these models would eventually lead to her return to India.

Her family faced financial problems in Hungary. In 1921, her family moved to Summer Hill, Shimla, India, and Sher-Gil soon began learning piano and violin. By age nine she, along with her younger sister Indira, was giving concerts and acting in plays at Shimla's Gaiety Theatre at Mall Road, Shimla. Though she had already been painting since the age of five, she started studying painting formally at age eight. Sher-Gil received formal lessons in art from Major Whitmarsh, who was later replaced by Beven Pateman. In Shimla, Sher-Gil lived a relatively privileged lifestyle. As a child, she was expelled from her convent school for declaring herself an atheist.

In 1923, Marie came to know an Italian sculptor, who was living in Shimla at the time. In 1924, when he returned to Italy, she too moved there, along with Amrita, and got her enrolled at Santa Annunziata, an art school in Florence. Though Amrita did not stay at this school for long and returned to India in 1924, it was here that she was exposed to works of Italian masters.

At sixteen, Sher-Gil sailed to Europe with her mother to train as a painter in Paris, first at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière under Pierre Vaillent and Lucien Simon (where she met Boris Taslitzky) and later at the École des Beaux-Arts (1930–1934). She drew inspiration from European painters such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Amedeo Modigliani, while working under the influence of her teacher Lucien Simon and through the company of artist friends. While in Paris, she is said to have painted with a conviction and maturity rarely seen in a 16-year old.


Amrita Sher-Gil Self-portrait, untitled
Self-portrait (untitled), 1931

Sher-Gil's early paintings display a significant influence of the Western modes of painting, more specifically, the Post-impressionism style. She practiced a lot in the Bohemian circles of Paris in the early 1930s. Her 1932 oil painting, Young Girls, came as a breakthrough for her; the work won her accolades, including a gold medal and election as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933. She was the youngest ever member, and the only Asian to have received this recognition. Her work during this time include a number of self-portraits, as well as life in Paris, still life studies, and portraits of friends and fellow students.

Sher-Gil returned to India at the end of 1934. In India, she began a quest for the rediscovery of the traditions of Indian art which was to continue till her death. She was greatly impressed and influenced by the Mughal and Pahari schools of painting and the cave paintings at Ajanta.

Sher-Gil is considered an important painter of 20th-century India, whose legacy stands on a level with that of the pioneers from the Bengal Renaissance. Sher-Gil's paintings are among the most expensive by Indian women painters today, although few acknowledged her work when she was alive.


In 1941, at age 28, just days before the opening of her first major solo show in Lahore, she became seriously ill and slipped into a coma leaving behind a large volume of work (her last work was left unfinished by her just prior to her death). She later died around midnight on 5 December 1941. The reason for her death has never been discovered. Amrita was cremated on 7 December 1941 at Lahore.


Amrita Sher-Gil with 3 paintings
Amrita Sher-Gil with three of her paintings

Sher-Gil's art has influenced generations of Indian artists and her depiction of the plight of women has made her art a beacon for women at large both in India and abroad. Sher-Gil was sometimes known as India's Frida Kahlo because of the "revolutionary" way she blended Western and traditional art forms.

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, some of her paintings also hang at the Lahore Museum. Her work is deemed to be so important to Indian culture that when it is sold in India, the Indian government has stipulated that the art must stay in the country – fewer than ten of her works have been sold globally.

A postage stamp depicting her painting 'Hill Women' was released in 1978 by India Post, and the Amrita Shergil Marg is a road in Lutyens' Delhi named after her.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Amrita Sher-Gil para niños

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