Amrita Sher-Gil (1913 - 1941) left behind a substantial body of works done during her short, but productive career as an artist. The museum has in its collection a significant part of her oeuvre and some of these are displayed here in the exhibit.
National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Ministry of Culture, Government of India celebrated through 2013 – 14 the birth centenary of one of the country's most distinguished and iconic women artist, Amrita Sher-Gil.
NGMA began the Birth Centenary Celebrations of Amrita Sher-Gil on 31.1.2013 with the release of a ‘Special Cover’ by the Department of Posts, release of two Portfolios on Amrita Sher-Gil from NGMA's Publication Cell , a special display in the Permanent gallery of selective works of art presenting Amrita Sher-Gil as an iconic personality followed by the Screening of a film on Amrita Sher-Gil directed by Navina Sundaram.
Later during the year, the Digital Panel Exhibition entitled ‘Remembering Amrita Sher-Gil’, portraying her as an iconic personality at Hall IV, UNESCO was inaugurated on 24.09.2013. It was followed by screening of film titled “Amrita Sher-Gil”, directed by Sandor Sara, Hungary, followed by a talk by Katalin Keserű, art historian, screening of film titled “A Family Album”, directed by Navina Sundaram with an illustrated talk by her and a musical concert by Hungarian musicians M. Zoltán Lantos & M. Péter Szalai.
The Birth Centenary celebrations concluded with an exhibition organised by NGMA titled ' Amrita Sher-Gil: The Passionate Quest' curated by Yashodhara Dalmia inaugurated on 31st January 2014. The exhibition travelled to the regional centers of NGMA in Mumbai and Bengaluru
Self Portrait - 7
Amrita Sher Gil flashed through the Indian artistic horizon like an incandescent meteor. Her place in the trajectory of Indian modern art is unquestionably preeminent. Her aesthetic sensibility shows not surprisingly a blend of European and Indian elements.
Sher Gil’s sikh father, Umrao 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 Paris 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 mid 30s 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, and 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 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.
Sher-Gil’s visual language introduced a host of new elements in modern Indian art. For one, her handling of the oil medium opened up new possibilities for a future generation of artists. Her distinctive vision left its mark on pre-Independence modern painting. Her female forms demanded attention. They were both sensuous and vulnerable. They were subjects and objects at the same time. Besides her subtly expressive representation of the female figure, Sher-Gil also wove in ingeniously narrative elements of miniature paintings in her work. For the first time, we see intimate portrayals of domestic scenes.
The NGMA has a large collection of 107 of her paintings covering an extensive range of her important works both from her Paris days and from her Indian stay.
Amrita first studied from Pierre Vaillant at the Grande Chaumière and then she went to Lucien Simon at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
She was becoming acquainted with the rules of European painting through portraits and studies of nudes, with the pictorial proportions and compositional solutions defined by the figure and its stature. Her works met with success at the exhibitions of the apprentices.
She was influenced by both academic realism and post impressionist trends current at the time.
Still Life (1)
Potted Plan in Blossom
From 1930 onwards, Amrita Sher-Gil made several portraits of her friends and fellow students as well as figure studies of models.
During this early phase Sher-Gil adopted a certain realism in her portrayal and was excited about the handling of paint and building up surface.
Portraits of her sister, Indira; friends - Boris Tachlitzky, Marie Louise Chassany and Madam Tachlitzky, Sumair,her cousin are displayed in this section.
Portrait of a Young Man
Open Air Painters
Girl in Mauve (2)
Young Man with Apples
Hungarian Gypsy Girl
Amrita Sher-Gil also painted a series of self portraits. Many of them captured her in the act of painting and reflecting her many moods.
The artist has depicted herself as an effervescent, charming young woman with the building up of the surface on the canvas with thick layering of pigments.
Self Portrait (8)
Self Portrait (5)
Self Portrait (9)
During the early ‘30s of the Twentieth century, while Amrita Sher-Gil was a student in Ecole des Beaux Arts, she painted a number of portraits and figure studies of friends, family, fellow students and professional models and evolved her own distinctive idiom in their representation.
Nude Study (6)
Portrait of Young Woman
Nude Study (1)
Whether it was in India or in Hungary Amrita Sher-Gil always preferred to paint ordinary people – mostly peasants and villagers. She also chose scenes from everyday life and endowed them with both a sense of poetry and of melancholy.
Her paintings done in India and Europe allows us to make an observation about the different approaches she adopted as the palette and her treatment are widely divergent in the works done in the two countries.
The Merry Cemetery
Hungarian Village Market
Amrita Sher-Gil returned to India in the mid 30s 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 and her figuration expressed a new visual reality.
Group of Three Girls
My Grand Mother Lady Jasbir Kaur (Rani Lady Daljit Singh of Kapurthala)
Amrita Sher-Gil painted in the latter half of the 1930s took a tour of South India. Paintings done in this period were inspired by the classical tradition of the Ajanta murals.
Amrita Sher-Gil painted the image with a large group of figures and used a richly diverse palette to delineate them. These works are also known as the South Indian trilogy. Displayed here are the Bride's Toilet and Brahmacharis from this trilogy.
She also painted a number of dark-toned figures draped in white garments post her tour of South India.
Study of 'Composition'
Inspiration of miniature painting traditions is patent in Amrita Sher-Gil's works done in India.
The female body in repose laden with a passive sexuality is emerging as a favourite subject of the artist. Sher-Gil is also well on her way to evolving a fresh genre of domestic scenes, capturing the ordinary Indian men and women and locating them in their context.
Inspired by miniatures, she has also created a distinctive genre in oils where she combined architecture with figures and animal life.
Woman Holding Fan
Amrita Sher-Gil was clearly fascinated with elephants as she made quite a few paintings of the animal in 1940. Also displayed here is a painting done of camels done in the year 1940 by the artist.
By the end of the 1930s, Amrita adopted a new style of expression, combining architecture, animal life and vegetation in a totally different use of the picture space.
Her use of bright, saturated pigments is particularly marked in these paintings done in the last years of her life. Scholars have commented on the influence of Basholi and other miniature traditions in the use of colour in these paintings.
Ancient Story Teller
Woman on Charpai
Amrita Sher-Gil emerged as an outstanding artist in her short, experientially rich life. The remarkable variety of subjects and styles in her works indicate the diversity and range of her interests that touch with empathy on all aspects of human experience. Her images explore the anesthetics of modernism even as she passionately engages with the Indian reality of her times.
Amrita Sher-Gil artist passed away on December 5th 1941 at the young age of 29 years and was working on ' The Last Unfinished Painting' for her forthcoming exhibition.
The Last Unfinished Painting
Role—National Gallery of Modern Art. New Delhi