Died: December 6, 1941
Achievements: One of the most promising Indian artists of the
pre-colonial era; youngest ever and the only Asian to be elected as
Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris.
Amrita Shergill was a renowned Indian painter. She was one of the most
charismatic and promising Indian artists of the pre-colonial era. Most
of her paintings reflect vividly her love for the country and more
importantly her response to the life of its people.
Amrita Shergill was born in Hungary in 1913. Her father was a Sikh
aristocrat and her mother was Hungarian. Both her parents were
artistically inclined. Her father, Umrao Singh Majitha, was a Sanskrit
Scholar and her mother, Marie Antoinette, was a pianist. Amrita spent
her early childhood in the village of Dunaharasti in Hungary. In 1921
her family moved to Shimla. It was at this time that Amrita Shergil
developed interest in painting. An Italian Sculptor used to live in Shimla.
In 1924, when the Italian Sculptor moved to Italy, Amrita Shergill's mother
too moved with there along with Amrita.
Italy Amrita was enrolled at Santa Anunciata, a Roman Catholic
institution. Amrita did not like the strict discipline of the Catholic
school but on the flip side she was exposed to the works of the Italian
masters and this further fanned her interest in painting. In 1927,
Amrita Shergil returned to India and began taking lessons in painting
under Ervin Backlay. But Ervins insistence that Amrita should copy
real life models exactly as she saw them irked Amrita and thus her
painting stint under Ervin Backlay was short lived.
In 1929, at the age of sixteen, Amrita Shergil sailed to France to
study Art. She took a degree in Fine Arts from the Ecole des Beaux Arts,
Paris. She also learnt to speak and write French. It was in France that
she started painting seriously. The Torso, one of her early paintings
was a masterly study of a nude which stood out for its cleverness of
drawing and bold modeling. In 1933, Amrita completed Young Girls.
Critics and Art enthusiasts were so impressed by Young Girls that Amrita
Shergill was elected as Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. Amrita
was the youngest ever and the only Asian to be honored thus.
In 1934, Amrita Shergill returned to India and evolved her own distinct
style which, according to her, was fundamentally Indian in subject,
spirit, and technical expression. Now the subject of his paintings were
the poor, the villagers and beggars. In 1937, Amrita Shergill went on a
tour of South India. This gave her the opportunity to achieve the
simplicity she always wanted in her paintings. In 1938, Amrita Shergill
went to Hungary and married her cousin Victor Egan much to the
opposition of her parents. She married purely for security reasons as
she felt that she was essentially weak and needed someone to take care
of her. In 1939, Amrita Shergill returned back to India and started
painting again. After her return her health deteriorated and she died on
December 6, 1941.