Amrita Sher-Gil Woman on Charpai 1940

Amrita Sher-Gil
Woman on Charpai 1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

The late 1930s saw the start of a new direction for Sher-Gil. Some of her pictures show her working on a more intimate scale, influenced by Indian miniature painting. From now, Sher-Gil’s paintings became more naive in style, the figures further simplified and the colours richer.

A recurring theme throughout Sher-Gil’s oeuvre is the representation of women in seclusion or moments of private thought. During her time in India she became familiar with the isolated lifestyles of women living on feudal estates, and many of her paintings evoke this inner world of boredom, resignation, idle pastimes and desires.

In June 1938, she returned to Hungary to marry her cousin, Victor Egan. With the threat of war looming, the couple left Budapest in June 1939, intending to live with Amrita’s family in India. However, her mother’s hostility towards Victor forced them to leave Shimla. Amrita’s last painting shows a view from the window of her studio in Lahore, where they had recently settled. The picture was unfinished at the time of her sudden death (possibly the result of a botched abortion) in December 1941. Though she was still only 28, she was already well recognised as one of India’s most important artists.

Works in focus

One of Sher-Gil’s recurrent themes is the isolated lifestyle of women living on feudal estates, immersed in their private thoughts and desires. She acknowledged the influence of Moghul miniatures on this work, which she described as ‘a girl in red flowered clothes (the Punjabi dress, tight red trousers, shirt and veil)… reclining in a charpoy, its posts of an incandescent red rose round her like tongues of flame… It is a sensual picture, but not sensual in the effete rather repulsive manner of some of our good Bombay fine art exhibitors.’

Woman on Charpai

One of Sher-Gil’s recurrent themes is the isolated lifestyle of women living on feudal estates, immersed in their private thoughts and desires. She acknowledged the influence of Moghul miniatures on this work, which she described as ‘a girl in red flowered clothes (the Punjabi dress, tight red trousers, shirt and veil)… reclining in a charpoy, its posts of an incandescent red rose round her like tongues of flame… It is a sensual picture, but not sensual in the effete rather repulsive manner of some of our good Bombay fine art exhibitors.’