How Amrita Sher-Gil Found Home, One Painting at a Time

The queer, Indian Hungarian painter revolutionized art by blending the East and the West, championing the female gaze, and celebrating herself.

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Amrita Sher-Gil, Lahore, India, c.1938 (Sher-Gil archives)

Mehr Singh


March 27, 2023


14 min

On Valentine’s Day, 1934, a 21-year-old Amrita Sher-Gil sent her mother a letter from Paris, where she learned to paint with a dexterity far beyond her years. This was days after Sher-Gil’s mother had heard a rumor about her daughter being in a relationship with her roommate.

“My dear Mummy, do you know that I am of age? So, please do respect me,” Sher-Gil wrote. Sher-Gil denied having any romantic relations with Mary Louise, but wrote, “I am going to be very frank with you. I confess I also think…about the disadvantages of relationships with men. But since I need to relieve my sexuality physically somehow…I thought I would start a relationship with a woman when the opportunity arises.” 

Sher-Gil would continue to be outspoken, a right reserved for men at the time, not only through her beliefs and her politics, but also through her art, highlighting the grim realities of unpartitioned India under the British Raj. But instead of emulating only Eurocentric techniques or Indianizations of colonial styles, the young painter created her own, distinct style. The “mother of Indian art” — as many called her after her death — lived a short life, yet breathed color into everything she touched, rediscovering her work and herself in the motherland.

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