LONDON - Amrita Sher-Gil, half-Hungarian, half-Indian, presents a fascinating amalgamation of east and west in her art. Often compared to her contemporary Frida Kahlo, who was also half-Hungarian, her avant-garde work broke the mould, as did her free-spirited lifestyle.
Raised in Budapest and Shimla in northern India, Sher-Gil began painting at the age of five, encouraged by her maternal uncle, the renowned Indologist Ervin Baktay. At his suggestion, in 1929, when she was 16, the family moved to Paris where she trained at the Grande Chaumière and the École des Beaux-Arts. This extraordinary upbringing is evident in her artistic style, which transcends cultural barriers, incorporating both her Indian and Hungarian heritage, as well as her classical French training. Despite her tragically early death in Lahore at age 28, Sher-Gil left a coherent and thrilling body of work, including 172 paintings. Of these, 95 are in museums and institutions within India, and so will never leave the country, giving her work an appealing rarity on the open market.
Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled (Self-Portrait). Estimate $1,200,000–1,800,000.
While living in Paris, Amrita and her sister Indira spent their summers in Hungary, in the small town of Zebegeny. It was here, in the summer of 1933, shortly after winning the Gold Medal from the Grand Salon, that the 19 year old Sher-Gil painted the extraordinary self-portrait offered by Sotheby's New York on 18 March. Gazing directly out at the viewer, with her lips a bold crimson and a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she perfectly captures the moment of her own transformation from girl to woman in this charming, and wonderfully rare, self-portrait.
Annabel Kishor is a specialist in the Indian Art department, Sotheby’s New York.