Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-41), both as a painter and a personality has teased, enthralled, surprised and at the same time alienated the art world for ages. A precocious child of mixed parentage (Hungarian mother, Indian father) Amrita sailed to France to study Art in Paris when she was only sixteen years old.
Six years later a young but already resolute -on- proving -herself Amrita returned to India. Not yet twenty-two, but already a technically accomplished painter, her perception of India as an exotic land of cultures seems quite evident in her early paintings. However Amrita’s unquenchable thirst to know, stopped her from being a cursory sampler of Indian exotica. Her sometimes obstinately single minded dedication towards her craft, sometimes made her a difficult person, and indeed painter, to deal with. Amrita Sher-Gil sought to come to terms with her Indian heritage – being only half Indian, she must have known that she would never have an insider’s view of India or be able to claim a full share of its psyche.
While still in college a wistful Amrita wrote to her friend how she “began to be haunted by an intense longing to return to India, feeling in some strange way that there lay my destiny as a painter’. This particular statement shows us how affected Amrita was with the idea of India. Women of her times never talked about career, especially in India. Few Indian girls had an advanced education of any nature and those who did never took up a profession or employment, let alone declared their independence in such an unusual way, as by becoming an artist.
Amrita Sher-Gil decided that she should seek inspiration from the indigenous art forms of India too be a true Indian Artist. Mughal miniatures and Ajanta Murals greatly inspired her.her tour of south India produced the famous South Indian trilogy paintings. This paintings gives us a sense her passionate sense of colour and her empathy for her Indian subjects, who are often depicted in their poverty and despair. Her work also clearly inspired from the works of Hungarian painters in the interwar years, especially the Nagybanya school of painting.
Critics on Sher-Gil
Amrita Sher-Gil has often been accused of lacking political awareness and not showing any signs of empathy for the independence movement, which was entering its final phase during her last years. Her overt exoticization of India has also received a lot of flak. People believe that her naïve depictions of poverty shows her superficial assessment of the country. However it cannot be denied that Amrita Sher-Gil showed something that is always a mark of a great artist- a love for humanity.