Amrita Sher-Gill (born 1913, in Budapest, Hungary) was the elder daughter of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, a scholar in Persian and Sanskrit and a Sikh aristocrat and to Marie Antoinette Gottesmann, a Jewish Opera singer of Hungary. Indira Sundaram (née Sher-Gil), her younger sister, is the mother of Vivan Sundaram, a contemporary artist.
Amrita Shergill is an Indian painter and the most important and ‘expensive’ woman painter in India. Called sometimes as Frida Kahlo of India, she is recognized as one of the Nine Masters and her work is categorized as art treasures by The Archaeological Survey of India, in 1976 and 1979. Her paintings are considered at par with the Masters of Bengal Renaissance.
She spent her childhood at Budapest in Hungary. She started painting at the age of five but formally started her learning in painting later when she was eight. She learnt violin and piano and started giving concerts along with her younger sister Indira when she was only nine. She also acted in plays at Gaiety Theatre at Shimla. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin and together stayed at Saraya in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, at the home of her father. She is known to have had many affairs with both men and women.
Education and Career Amrita Shergill
Marie, Amrita’s mother, came to know about an Italian sculpture living in Shimla. Who returned to Italy in 1924. Marie along with Amrita moved to Italy and enrolled her in an Art School at Florence, Santa Anunciata, where she studied the works of Italian masters. Amrita returned to India soon after the same year. While in Europe, she longed to return to India to rediscover traditional Indian art which she pursued till her death. Egged on by Karl Khandalavala, an art critic and art collector, she traveled widely in 1934. The Pahari and Mughal schools of painting greatly impressed her as did the Ajanta cave paintings.
Prominent Paintings by Amrita Shergill
While in Europe, she was engaged with the works of Hungarian painters, particularly the Nagybanya school of painting. In 1937, she toured South India that resulted in her famous South Indian trilogy paintings - 'Brahmacharis', ‘Bride's Toilet’ and ‘The South Indian Villagers’ which expressed the lives of Indian people in all its depth in colour and passion.
At Gorakhpur, she did her second set of paintings. In 1941 she and her husband moved to Lahore, then a major art and cultural centre of undivided India, and set up her stuidio. Days before her first solo art exhibition in Lahore, she fell ill and went into a coma and dies probably due to peritonitis consequent to a failed abortion.
Amrita Shergill had her own style Indian in spirit, subject and technque. Her South Indian paintings depicted the villagers, the poor and beggars. Her paintings at Gorakhpur resembled more the Indian Modern Art akin to the works of Jamini Roy and Rabindranath Tagorem, and the Progressive Artisits Group - Ara, F. N Souza, Gade, Bakre, S.H. Raza and M.F. Hussain.
Awards / Achievement
In 1929, at the age of sixteen, Amrita Shergil sailed to France to study Art. She took a degree in Fine Arts from the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. She also learnt to speak and write French. It was in France that she started painting seriously. The Torso, one of her early paintings was a masterly study of a nude which stood out for its cleverness of drawing and bold modeling. In 1933, Amrita completed Young Girls. Critics and Art enthusiasts were so impressed by Young Girls that Amrita Shergill was elected as Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. Amrita was the youngest ever and the only Asian to be honored thus.
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, and a postage stamp depicting her painting 'Hill Women' was released in 1978 in India, and a road in Lutyens' Delhi, was named after her, Amrita Shergill Marg.
Besides remaining an inspiration to many contemporary Indian artists, in 1993, she also became the inspiration behind, the famous Urdu play, by Javed Siddiqi, 'Tumhari Amrita', starring Shabana Azmi and Farooq Shaikh