Born: 30 January 1913
Died: 5 December 1941

Amrita Sher-Gil - Paintings


Setting the contours of modernism in a manner that was to become decisive for later artists was Amrita Sher-Gil, with her attempts at synthesizing two different modes of perception. Born a Hungarian mother and a Sikh landowner father, she had an early training at the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. She gave up her cafe life and returned to India in 1934 in search of her roots. Her early paintings seem to evoke the poverty, sadness and monumental gravity of the people she saw around her. One of her paintings “Group of Young Girls, a powerful work done in earthy colours portraying three, young girls waiting pensively for the future that lay in store for them, won a gold medal from Bombay Art Society in 1937. A significant recognition as it evoked a kind of melancholy that she found in India, a sadness and a sense of isolation while at the same time being a part of a group. The quality of being alone in the crowd can be discerned in many of Sher-Gil’s works made on her return to India. Bulk Raj Anand observes, “She had seen the Indian people from the point of view of the outsider, who wanted to become an insider. And she had accepted them in all their moods, because in the amorphous work of the bazaars, in the villages of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, in Simla, they were a colorful crowd, who excited her love of colour. And yet she seems to perceive, even when they were in a fair, that each one of them was alone. Specially the women who were segregated both in rich and poor households. And she brought an ambivalent attitude in tune with the ambivalence of the people: Together and yet alone: Each one dimly aware of being a temporary tenant in Samsara: with the stress of anxiety on their faces.

Sher-Gil - Indian Artist

The conflict that Sher-Gil faced in her work seems to be far more pervasive than a mere amalgamation of dual aesthetics. In her attempts to bring the School of Paris training to bear upon an Indian situation, she seemed to have felt a pull in two different directions. While her links with formalism have been associated with that of Paul Gauguin, the underlying implication of rooting her aesthetics in a purely formal discourse or the contradiction this would bring about in her avowed aim was seldom seen, even by her. Thus, she wrote, ‘I am an individualist, evolving a new technique, which, though not necessarily Indian in the traditional sense of the word, will yet be fundamentally Indian in spirit. With the eternal significance of form and colour I interpret India and, principally the life of the Indian poor on the plane that transcends the pane of mere sentiment interest.’ Sher-Gil’s engagement with the human condition and her adherence towards abstract formalism were to create a tension in her work, which she would often resolve fruitfully.

Her later paintings, done before she died prematurely in 1941 at the age of twenty-nine, contain large masses of primary colours, planar dimensions, and themes from miniatures. Yet as her earlier indicates, had she lived longer she would have found a resolution to the binary opposition.

Sher-Gil's 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. Some of her paintings also hang at the Lahore Museum. A postage stamp depicting her painting 'Hill Women' was released in 1978 by India Post, and the Amrita Sher-Gil Marg is a road in Lutyens' Delhi named after her. Her work is deemed to be so important to Indian culture that when it is sold in India, the Indian government has stipulated that the art must stay in the country – fewer than ten of her works have been sold globally. In 2006, her painting Village Scene sold for ₹6.9 crores at an auction in New Delhi which was at the time the highest amount ever paid for a painting in India. The Indian cultural center in Budapest is named the Amrita Sher-Gil Cultural Center. Contemporary artists in India have recreated and reinterpreted her works. Besides remaining an inspiration to many a contemporary Indian artists, in 1993, she also became the inspiration behind the Urdu play Tumhari Amrita. UNESCO announced 2013, the 100th anniversary of Sher-Gil's birth, to be the international year of Amrita Sher-Gil. Her work is a key theme in the contemporary Indian novel Faking It by Amrita Chowdhury. Aurora Zogoiby, a character in Salman Rushdie's 1995 novel The Moor's Last Sigh, was inspired by Sher-Gil. Sher-Gil was sometimes known as India's Frida Kahlo because of the "revolutionary" way she blended Western and traditional art forms. In 2018, The New York Times published a belated obituary for her. In 1941, at age 28, just days before the opening of her first major solo show in Lahore, she became seriously ill and slipped into a coma. She later died around midnight on 6 December 1941, leaving behind a large volume of work. The reason for her death has never been ascertained.

Text Reference:
Excerpts from the book The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives by Yashodara Dalmia published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi in 2001
Retrieved from on 5 September 2018


  • Gold Medal, Bombay Art Society, India, 1937


  • Amrita Sher-Gil, Karl J. Khandalavala, New Book Co., 1945
  • Amrita Sher-Gil: Essays, Vivan Sundaram, Marg Publications; New Delhi, 1972
  • Amrita Sher-Gil, Baldoon Dhingra, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1981
  • Amrita Sher-Gil and Hungary, Gyula Wotjilla, Allied Publishers, 1981
  • Amrita Sher Gil: A Biography, Iqbal Singh, Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd, India, 1984
  • Amrita Sher-Gil: A Personal view, Ahmad Salim, Istaarah Publications, 1987
  • Amrita Sher-Gil, Mulk Raj Anand, National Gallery of Modern Art, 1989
  • Amrita Sher-Gil: Amrita Shergil ka Jivan aur Rachana samsar, Kanhaiyalal Nandan, 2000
  • Re-take of Amrita, Vivan Sundaram, Tulika, 2001
  • Amrita Sher-Gil ‘A Painted Life’, Geeta Doctor, Rupa, 2002
  • Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life, Yashodara Dalmia, 2006
  • Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Artist Family of the Twentieth Century, Vivan Sundaram, 2007
  • Amrita Sher-Gil: A Self Portrait in Letters and Writings, Vivan Sundaram, Tulika Books, 2010
  • Feminine Fables: Imaging the Indian Woman in Painting, Photography and Cinema, Get Sen, Mapin Publishing, 2002
  • The Art of Amrita Sher-Gil, Series of the Roerich Centre of Art and Culture, Allahabad Block Works, 1943
  • Sher-Gil, Amrita Sher-Gil, Lalit Kala Akademi, 1965

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Untitled (Self-Portrait) USD 2,920,000
Three Girls INR 182,000,000
Untitled (Self Portrait) GBP 1,762,500
Untitled (Self-Portrait) GBP 1,745,000
Untitled (In the Garden) USD 1,570,000
Untitled (Zebegeny Landscape) USD 720,000
Untitled (Zebegeny Landscape) USD 613,000
Untitled (Hungarian Village Church) INR 36,225,000
Sorrow USD 108,656
Untitled USD 89,774
194 USD 75,500