Amrita Sher Gil was the women who believed and lived for the power of painting. She was a pioneer of modern Indian art, she described women with her paintbrush.
‘I can only paint in India. Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque India belongs to me.’
In the 1930s, she put her art to depict the lives of women, their daily lives, their efforts, loneliness, and hopelessness. She used to paint women at home, women in the kitchen, women at markets, and women all around.
At times when women were depicted as goddesses, happy, and classy, she chose to let the world witness the reality of women in India. She chose to mark an era that readily defined the oppressiveness and abstract harsh substitutes that Indian women faced daily.
At the time when women posters showed off silver earrings and golden chains on women’s chests, she developed the idea of embracing the brass bangles and metallic anklets.
Life And Education
Amrita Sher Gil was born in Budapest on January 30, 1913. She was born in a family that appreciated Opera. Her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majitha was a Sikh aristocrat and a scholar of Sanskrit and Persian. Marie Antoinette, Amrita’s mother was a Hungarian Jewish opera singer. When she was eight, her family moved to Summer Hill, Shimla in India. Amrita’s family had close relations with the British Raj but she felt busy with the Indian National Congress.
At the age of eight, Amrita started to introduce herself to the formal art lessons. When she was sixteen, she settled in Paris where she continued her Arts studies at Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and then she also studied at École des Beaux-Arts. Sher Gil in her earlier career achieved heights and inspired women of her age to dream more.
Her painting ‘Three Girls’ depicted women with brown face, a contrast to vibrant colors, wearing passive expressions with green clothing. The women looked in a conundrum as if they are waiting for something that they doubt will ever come along.
Another painting that is one of the most popular ‘Young Girls’ also received a gold medal in Paris Salo in 1933. The painting showed her sister Indira wearing European clothing with a confident face sitting with a partially undressed companion named Denise Proutaux. In the painting, one woman was bold and confident while the other was hiding and reserved. It is said that the painting was designed to show the different aspects of Amrita’s personality, she was social and she was outgoing, she was found at Parisian parties, she was sometimes away alone and painting.
Amrita was an artist who did not like to be reserved in a single prospect. She was an explorer and painted variants. Along with portraying her family, relatives, and friends, she also painted self-portraits. Her self portraits used to reflect a troubled woman and an introverted self between the shades of her Hungarian and Indian side.
Her ‘Self Portrait as Tahitian’ was a home-work from French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin, whose style was to reflect dark women. She painted her own brown nude body with a shady expression and long ponytail.
She read and learned every inch of her character’s identity and captured every thick and thin instance of their existence.
Amrita Sher Gil always had an instinct to belong to India. Despite being a renowned artist and despite claiming different awards around the globe, she was never satisfied with the love she got from Paris and abroad.
‘Haunted by an intense longing to return to India, feeling in some strange inexplicable way that there lay my destiny as a painter,’ she wrote.
She accepted that she felt more fundamentally Indian. She wrote ‘I realized my artistic mission then: to interpret the life of Indians and particularly of the poor Indians pictorially, to paint those silent images of infinite submission and patience, to depict their angular brown bodies.’
In 1938, Shergill married Victor Egan one of her cousins and in 1939 she moved to India with her husband. She then settled in Saraya, a small village in India’s Gorakhpur district. She started to feel depressed in the village and then later she decided to move to Lahore.
Her exceptional trait
Sher-Gil was always in controversies regarding her sexual preferences. She was also inclined to the idea of lesbian affairs. Later she bonded with painter Marie Louise Chassany, her nephew Vivan Sundaram and some of her critics.
Her nephew Vivan Sundaram wrote a biography of her named ‘ Two women’ in which she explained both of their attractions and longings.
When Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai explained her life in the book ‘ Same-Sex Love in India’, her mother intruded to ask Amrita about her sexual preferences to which she denied. She said, “ We never had anything to do with each other in sexual terms.” She added: “I thought I would start a relationship with a woman when the opportunity arises’.
She did not have a preference in relationships, inclined to lesbian relationships, and then married to one of her cousins Evan.
Amrita died on December 5, 1941, when she was 28. It is said that she died during her second pregnancy complications and failed abortion.
She wrote to her mother “Everybody says that I have improved immensely; even that person whose criticism in my view is most important to be — myself.”