Amrita Sher-Gil was born in Budapest in Hungary on the 30th January 1913. Her parents had met in London and married in 1912 in Lahore, India, which today is in Pakistan. At the end of the First World War in 1918, the Hungarian economy collapsed, revolution and counter revolutions followed so the Sher-Gil family left Budapest and moved in 1921 to India.
In 1923 Sher-Gil’s mother met an Italian sculptor in Shimla and when he later moved to Italy, she and Sher-Gil moved to Florence. Her mother, having recognised Sher-Gil’s artistic talent enrolled her at an art school in Florence hoping this would instil a love of the Italian Renaissance in her daughter. In 1926 her maternal uncle Ervin Baktay, a painter recognised Sher-Gil’s talent and encouraged her to take her art more seriously. He encouraged her to draw from observation and insisted Sher-Gil should draw real life models exactly as she saw them.
Her mother wanted to return to Europe, so they relocated to Paris in 1929. The bohemian lifestyle in Paris inspired Sher-Gil. She first enrolled at the Grande Chaumière Academy, but later in October 1929 she attended Lucien Simon’s classes at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts. She was the École des Beaux Arts first Indian student.
In 1932 Sher-Gil painted “Young Girls”. A painting of her sister, Indira, sitting opposite Sher-Gil’s partially undressed friend, Denyse Proutaux,. Critics and Art enthusiasts were so impressed by Young Girls that Amrita Sher-Gil was elected an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris.
Late in 1934, Amrita Sher-Gil returned to India. She enthusiastically embraced Indian culture, she wore only saris and focused on painting India’s poor, particularly the everyday lives of women. By 1937 she was famous and later that year an exhibition of her paintings was held at Faletti’s Hotel in Lahore. The exhibition was a success.
In 1938, Amrita Sher-Gil went to Hungary and proposed marriage to her cousin Victor Egan. They had a troubled relationship and towards the end of 1941, she became very depressed and stopped painting. Shortly afterwards she became gravely ill, and died on the 5th December 1941 aged just 28. Her mother was convinced Egan had murdered her daughter, but nothing was every proved.