Amrita Sher Gil’s Lahore

KHALID HASAN writes about the final months of the artist’s life.

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Amrita moved to Lahore in August 1941. Four months later she was dead. She and Victor rented flat No 23 in Sir Ganga Ram Mansion (I wonder who lives there now), which was also known as Exchange Mansion. She could see the Lahore High Court from the back of the flat. Her husband, who was a doctor, set up his clinic on the ground floor while Amrita made the barsati on top into her studio. She was full of enthusiasm and the artist’s block that she had been struggling with seemed to at last be lifting. She was all set to hold her exhibition in December (it was held after her death) at Faletti’s, where she had exhibited her paintings in 1937. Khushwant Singh who had set up a law practice in Lahore used to hold a fortnightly soiree at his residence where he would be joined by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Prof Ahmed Shah Bokhari, Kartar Sing Duggal, Amrita Pritam Kaur, GD Khosla and Mangat Rai (brother of the long-serving principal of Kinnaird College, the late Miss Mangat Rai). In Lahore also lived artists like Abdul Rehman Chughtai, Satish Gujral and Roop Krishna. Amrita became friends with Nawab Muzaffar Ali Qizalbash, Jamil Asghar, who later became a high court judge, Rashid Ahmed (who married Zeenat Rashid and whose daughter is married to Javed Jabbar “JJ”), U Karamet (who as Vice Chancellor of the Punjab University would sign papers with a flourish that said: “OK – UK”) and AS Bokhari.

Amrita’s reputation as an artist who combined the best of European technique and tradition with the purest of Indian motifs and the Indian spirit, continues to soar. Her work, which now fetches high prices, sold little during her life and the few she sold did not bring in more than a few hundred rupees (One of her paintings, “Veena Players,” hangs in the Lahore Museum and one in the Contemporary Art Gallery in Islamabad, gifted to its founder Zubaida Agha by Ishfaq Ahmed, who picked it up for a few rupees from a junk dealer).

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