On this day..., Painters, painting

On this day… was born Amrita Sher-Gil

Amrita Sher-Gil was a Hungarian-Indian painter. She’s considered a pioneer in modern Indian art and one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century. She was also a pianist and an avid reader. Even though her paintings are among the most expensive by Indian women painters today, during her life she was practically unknown.  

Life and Work

Sher-Gil was born on this day 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her father was a Jat sikh and a scholar in Sanskrit and Persian, her mother was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer from a bourgeois family. Sher-Gil spent most of her childhood in Budapest. Her family faced some economic problems in Hungary and in 1921 they moved to Summer Hill Shimla in India, where Sher-Gil began learning violin and piano. At the age of 9, she and her sister gave concerts and acted in plays at the Gaiety Theatre in Shimla. In India the family had a relatively privileged lifestyle.

Although she painted since very young age (only five years old) Sher-Gil started her formal education at age of eight with the Major Whitmarsh and later with Beven Pateman. When she was a young girl, she painted the servants who worked in her house.

At the age of sixteen Sher-Gil travelled to Europe with her mother to receive training as a painter in Paris. She studied first at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and then at the École des Beaux-Arts. She felt very inspired by the works of Cézanne and Gauguin.

Young Girls by Amrita Sher-Gil (1932) – National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi

We can divide her works in two periods. The first one, correspondent to her early works, is very influenced by Western styles, especially by French artists. This period starts at 1932 ending in 1936. The painting Young Girls is from this period, this painting was a breakthrough for her, with it she won a gold medal and the election as Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933. She was the only Asian to have received this recognition.

In the second period (1937-1941) we can observe an influence of the Indian art. In one of her letters to her friends she said that she could only paint in India, because it was the only place that she belonged and that belonged to her.

Village scene by Amrita Sher-Gil (1938)


  • In India her legacy stands on a level with that of the pioneers from the Bengal Renaissance.
  • Her younger sister Indira Sundaram was the mother of the contemporary artist Vivian Sundaram.
  • She was the niece of the Indologist Ervin Baktay, who advocated for her pursuing an artistic career.
  • As a child, she was expelled from the convent school for declaring that she was an atheist.