Amrita Sher-Gil was born in Budapest in 1913. From studied art in Paris at the Grand Chaumiere and then at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In 1934, she returned to India and it turned out to be a momentous homecoming. The country and its people made a strong impact on her. At the same time, she discovered with a wonder and joy, the ancient and medieval artistic traditions of India.
Amrita Sher-Gil flashed through the Indian artistic horizon like an incandescent meteor. Her place in the trajectory of Indian modern art is unquestionably pre eminent. Her aesthetic sensibility shows not surprisingly a blend of European and India elements. Her command over handing of oil medium and use of colour, as well as her vigorous brushwork and strong feeling for composition, all go towards giving a dazzling quality to her genius.
Sher-Gil's Sikh father, Umaro Singh Sher-Gil was an owner of landed estates and among other things, he was also a skilled photographer. Her mother, Marie Antoinette was a Hungarian. Sher-Gil's art education was completed in Pairs where she was influenced by the post impressionists like Gauguin. While her childhood years were spent travelling between India and Europe, she returned to India in the 3os of the 20th century with a wish to make India her home.
It was at this time her ways of seeing changed radically. Sher-Gil looked at the Indian art traditions with a fresh eye and she gazed at the sad-eyed people around her with empathy. She became excited by the Indian miniature traditions and as a consequence of her travels to the rock cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora and through South India, her visual language underwent a dramatic transformation. Both the palette, which became saturated with intense reds, ochres, browns, yellows and greens, her figuration expressed a new visual reality. But she interspersed these paintings of her land and its people with paintings that she practiced in Paris.
The dichotomy of her cross-cultural heritage is perhaps one clue to her complex persona. Sher-Gil was passionate about life, drinking what it had to offer to the dregs. And yet she harboured within her a deep sense of melancholy that found expression in the pensive faces of her subjects and their languorous poses.
From the European naturalism seen in her paintings done in the early 1930s, she evolved by the late 1930s an eloquent stylization in her figuration and composition and shifted to a vibrant palette. Her tragic and untimely death in 1941 cut short a genius that was yet to reach its full potential.
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