Master painter Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth centenary was recently celebrated by Bonjour India 2013 and India Art Fair. Sher-Gil is known to have revolutionised the artistic world with her in-depth and expressive paintings.
On this occasion, Penguin publication launched the paperback edition of Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life by noted art historian and critic Yashodara Dalmia.
Dalmia traced the painter’s life which started with her birth in Budapest. She learnt the basics of art in Paris and then returned to India in 1934 because as she later wrote about her return that 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’.
At the same time, Sher-Gil felt she was returning to a country whose riches she had been exposed to in Paris. On returning to India she confidently proclaimed that ‘Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque and many others...India belongs only to me’.
Influenced by both cultures, Sher-Gil’s works were an amalgamation of French and Indian art. The sense of being alone in the crowd was a characteristic of her works. Her composition had an extreme simplicity of form which is motivated by tones of white and brown. The juxtaposition of dark and light masses created an exceptional work. She was particularly interested in painting indigenous people and culture.
Her paintings had a deep-rooted reality like in the Three girls where the contrast between the bright colours and melancholy expressions is indicative of the life women led in those days. She had a deep interest in painting people from the hills and she gave them large doleful eyes and vacant stares which exuded their utter helplessness.
Her passionate use of colour is revealed in her south Indian paintings, Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and The South Indian Villagers. Talking about Bramhachari, Dalmia called it a masterpiece which is ‘perfectly poised between the serenity of tradition and turbulence of diversity’.
Sher-Gil was elected as an associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933, which was quite an honour for a young student from Asia. Sher-Gil,who died at an young age of 28, left behind a legacy that inspires Indian modern art even after her death. She urged her contemporaries not to cling to ‘traditions that were once vital, sincere and splendid and which are now merely empty formulae’ but to ‘break away and produce something vital, connected with the soil, something essentially Indian’.
‘Any architect who wants to write about Indian art has to first encounter Amrita,’ Dalmia said.