Thursday, November 23, 2006

Amrita Sher-Gil

Reclining Nude (Sleep), 1933

"Daughter of an Indian father and an European mother, irrepressibly sensual yet often oddly detached, her artistic life divided between Paris and Punjab, the contradictory forces in Amrita Sher-Gil's nature and background came triumphantly together in her art,
if not in her life. A founder of Indian modernism, it is time that her genius is recognized beyond the country's borders."
Sudhir Kakar

Brides Toilet, 1937

Amrita Shergil, daughter of Sardar Umrao Singh Shergil and Antoinette, a Hungarian lady endowed with considerable artistic talent, was born in Budapest in 1913, and spent the formative years of her life in Europe. She dabbled in paint from her early childhood. Her intelligent mother detected the talent latent in her, and encouraged her to paint. In 1929 when she was sixteen years old, her mother felt it was time for Amrita to start an academic training in art: so the family set out for the capital of European culture, Paris.

In a matter of months Amrita had learnt to speak french fluently and with great ease adapted herself to the Parisian way of life. Her domineering mother took the girls to see 'good' theatre and concerts, and would arrange soirees of so called intellectuals, musicians and writers, at which she would present her daughters. Amrita detested these salon gatherings and stopped going to conventional plays and operas when she discovered the off-beat and avant garde theatres frequented by her artist friends.

The dark corners and smoky cafes of Bohemian Paris opened up their secrets to a new and thrilled Amrita who entered them with wild abandon. Here she met creative and unconventional people, whom she identified with characters from the books she had absorbed during her period of moody introspection. Amrita now became the uninhibited vivacious and happy person, which she appears to be in some of her early self-portraits. This was a different Amrita, an extrovert whose life became an eternal round of parties, concerts, theatres, films and exhibitions. Wherever she went people noticed her Eurasian looks, were captivated by her exotic charm and struck by her intelligence and confidence.She was famous for her many affairs with both women and men.
Though she wanted to imbibe the air of the leafy boulevards of the French capital and sample its inimitable cafe life, this young woman would return to India in a few years' time and go on to become India's first and most famous female artist of the century. Emancipated, yet responsible, fun-loving but serious, assertive yet fragile, she provided a role model for women artists of future generations.
Amrita's work done during her stay in Europe till 1934 was largely academic, consisting of still-life, nude studies, portraits and the like. Her genius was to flower only after her return to her fatherland, India. She came here not as a foreigner attracted by the 'picturesque' India, and the exotic sights and smells; she came here as an Indian in feeling and spirit and with a mind to make this land her home. Despite her training in western art, she had complete awareness of and deep respect for India's artistic traditions. When she set foot on Indian soil for the first time in November 1934, she was haunted by the faces of the unhappy and dejected, poor and starving Indians whom she saw first around Simla, then in the South and finally in Punjab, where she was to spend the last days of her life (She died in Lahore in 1942).

more here

Amrita Sher-Gil
Eine indische Kuenstlerfamilie im 20. Jahrhundert
(An artist family from India in the twentieth century)

at Haus der Kunst Munich till january 2007


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