Amrita Sher-Girl, often referred to as ‘India’s Frida Kahlo’, is one of the the nations most celebrated and influential artists. Amrita was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1913 to her mother Marie Antoinette Gottesman, a Hungarian Jewish Opera singer, and her father Umrao Sher-Gil, a Sikh photographer and aristocrat with a deep scholarly interest in astronomy, Sanskrit, and Persian.
At the age of 16 Amrita and her mother sailed from Hungary to Paris where she began training to become a painter. In 1934 Amrita wrote “I began to be haunted by an intense longing to return to India, feeling in some strange inexplicable way that there lay my destiny as a painter,” and so the family left Paris and made their move to Shimla, in the western Himalayas. Amrita painted intensively and travelled widely, keen to observe and represent Indian villagers and their way of life, showing a strong empathy and deep engagement for her Indian subjects and depicted the poverty which blighted much of her country.
Extensively trained in painting and exposed to the works of Italian masters, her paintings are representative of this period in the history of Modern Art, drawing inspiration from artists like Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne. She became heavily influenced by wall paintings in Western India and the aesthetic of European oil painting techniques. Such a strong affinity for Western modes of painting, as a response to traditional art-historical resources, has made Sher-Gil a captivating artist to study.The evolution of her unique style is mirrored through her paintings, influenced by Impressionist and ‘European’ style, they are characterised by an exceptional colour palette filled with unbridled and bold colour.
Although her life was short-lived, Sher-Gil has left a compelling body of work behind, and these works have established her as one of the foremost female artists of the century. With such a precocious talent for painting and a unique post-impressionist style, her development of subjectivity through self-portraits and struggle for artistic identity, will continue to ignite contemporary interest. As an eminent Indian painter, her importance as a pioneer of the modern movement will remain in posterity for years to come. Being a woman who came from an affluent and upper-middle class strata, she encouraged a spirit of defiance against social norms and encouraged women to play a more prominent role within the field of art.
Today, Amrita is considered a one of the most important female painters of 20th century India, whose legacy stands at par with that of the Masters of Bengal Renaissance. Her art has influenced generations of Indian artists from Sayed Haider Raza to Arpita Singh and her depiction of the plight of women has made her art a beacon for women at large both in India and abroad. 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.