YASHODHARA DALMIA looks back at legendary icon of modern Indian art Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) on her birth centenary.
What is it that makes the work of the artist so significant for the present? Perhaps it is the unbearable grace of the figures, which reflected the life of people around her, touching upon the essential aspects of their lives. She returned to India in December 1934 after her training at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, but did not join her parents immediately in Simla. Instead, she stayed for a while in her ancestral home in Amritsar, Punjab. While still there, she painted the Group of Three Girls, which depicts three young women in bright clothes. Their flamboyant costume contrasts sharply with their melancholic expressions and reflects the state of their existence. Even though grouped together, each one appears isolated and self-enclosed.
In winter that year, Amrita made two of her important paintings, Hill Women and Hill Men. The melancholy faces and thin bodies of the poor folk are transmuted into figures bearing an unutterable grace and dignity. According to Amrita, “It was the vision of a winter in India—desolate, yet strangely beautiful—on endless tracks of luminous yellow-grey land, of dark-bodied, sad-faced, incredibly thin men and women who move silently, looking almost like silhouettes, and over which an indefinable melancholy reigns….”
Photo: Amrita Sher-Gil in her studio in Shimla, 1937. (Credit)