Amrita Sher-Gil : Icon
By Eva Sood
Amrita Sher-Gil was married to my father Dr. Victor Egan. He lost her on December 5th, 1941 after they had been married less than four years. Amrita and my father shared an unusual and unique relationship. I learned about some of it as a child though adulthood taught me that much of what they shared was extremely unconventional. My impression is that it was a tumultuous time for Dad. Amrita and he were first cousins with their Hungarian mothers Blanca and Marie Antoinette being sisters. Marie Antoinette married Umrao Singh Sher-Gil so Amrita shuttled between India and Europe in her growing-up years. The ancestral home and property of the paternal branch of her family was at Saraya, later known as Sardarnagar, near Gorakhpur in UP.
My father and Amrita shared the easy intimacy and camaraderie that comes of growing up together. He studied medicine and she studied art in the unpredictable climate of pre-war Europe. On July 16th, 1938 they married in the teeth of family opposition and finally left for India on June 19th, 1939. India was a second home to Amrita and she happily introduced her new husband to it. They dreamt of him setting up his practice and her pursuing her own Muse. They tried to establish themselves in Saraya but soon decided to move to Lahore where Amrita met her untimely end in December 1941.
After Amrita’s death, father returned to Saraya with as many of their things as he could carry under the circumstances. Years later he met and married my mother Nina Hydrie, a beautiful girl from Lucknow, twenty-three years younger to him.
I grew up with Amrita in the background. She was neither an over-romanticised nor ominous presence. She quite simply marked a phase in Dad’s life. Had it not been for her, he might never have left Europe. Had it not been for her, I might never have been!
Every family has its memorabilia. Rarely is this treasured by anyone other than a small select circle of near and dear ones. My father gifted forty-five paintings to the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi at Prime Minister Nehru’s personal request but kept a few of her personal belongings.
In our home Amrita’s possessions were always taken for granted. This exhibition is a glimpse into some of the moments that made up the last two years of Amrita’s life. She is seen in many photographs wearing the jewellery that we show you. I have often imagined her and Dad bargaining for Tibetan trinkets in the lanes of Kasauli or posing for formal photographs, she in brocade blouse and zari sari and he – debonair in a suit. I picture her mixing paint on her palette, hesitating briefly before her genius guides the brush strokes and immortalises them on canvas. It gives me immense pleasure to share this and offer a glimpse into the past and possessions of Amrita Sher-Gil.