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NANDALAL BOSE (1882-1966)
Lots which are Art Treasures under the Art and Ant… Read more NATIONAL ART TREASURE - NON EXPORTABLE PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION During the summers of her student years at Paris's École des Beaux-Arts, Amrita Sher-Gil spent some of her holidays in Zebegény, a village on the Danube about 40 km from Budapest. Sher-Gil's mother's youngest sister, Ella Szepessy, had a home in the picturesque village where Amrita and her sister, Indira, often stayed. Born in Budapest in 1913, to a Hungarian mother and a Sikh father, Amrita Sher-Gil had profound ties to the country. The artist's mother tongue was Hungarian and her formative years were spent there. The Sher-Gils enjoyed the company of a sophisticated bohemian circle of artists and intellectuals in Hungary. Amrita would have known and interacted with these figures. Her childhood interest in Hungarian fairy tales and princesses and castles, which she also wrote and illustrated in her diaries, developed into wider tastes and an appreciation for writers such as Endre Ady [1877-1919] whose complex feelings towards God, Hungary and nationalism would have influenced her later childhood and teenage years. Zebegény, where this church was painted, had medieval origins. Located north of Budapest, it would have been a refuge from the bustling life of the city. The rustic charm of the village had already attracted artistic predecessors such as István Szönyi [1894-1960]. Sher-Gil also found inspiration there and produced several different views of the village during her career including the atmospheric Winter and the Merry Cemetery in 1939. Away from the Paris ateliers in 1932, at the height of summer, the nineteen year-old Beaux-Arts student painted outdoor views of the Hungarian landscape which included several idyllic images of the Danube. The Catholic Church that caught Sher-Gil's attention this year, was built primarily by Karoly Kós, a successful Hungarian-Transylvanian architect, circa 1908-1909. Influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement, the architect was inspired by Finnish and Eastern European folk culture. He, along with Budapest architect Béla Jánzsky, incorporated these elements along with an Art Nouveau styling that reflected a cultural awakening in Hungary during the period. Sher-Gil simplified the exterior of the church by eliminating its windows. She focused instead on the form and sensuousness of the architecture: the rounded door with archway, the triangles and cones of the towers. The human body was on the artist's mind. Sher-Gil was simultaneously painting nudes and Gypsy girls en plein-air that summer having written to her mother that she could pay a few pengös to the girls, and a few more for them to pose nude, a month after having just lost the "nude concours" in Paris [Letter July 1932]. The Hungarian Nagybánya School, first introduced to Sher-Gil by her uncle the Indologist Ervin Baktay, who studied with the group's founder Simon Hollósy, placed emphasis on plein-air painting. This philosophy was visible in these works as was the recent influence of Post-Impressionism, particularly of works by artists like Cézanne, which Amrita would have encountered in Paris. Her search for the picturesque in the church outweighs any likely religious sentiment the artist might have held. Sher-Gil was expelled from Jesus and Mary Convent after declaring herself an "atheist"- in spite of being baptized. The painting of the Zebegény church, rather, was a result of Modern artists' preoccupation and attraction to the folk and the primitive, which Sher-Gil shared, and would later bring to maturity in India. Sher-Gil captures the church in ways reminiscent of Van Gogh's old church tower in Nuenen with its distilling of the Gothic and traditional Dutch painting in the countryside. The spare elements of the church may have testified to a romanticized notion of a peasant faith. The foliage on the left side of the painting and the simple cross on the left hand tower of the Catholic Church are emphasized in a few strokes by the artist. (This would differ from the two later stylized and finished works of church steeples in the rural Kiskunhalas produced by the artist in 1938.) The stark purity of the actual form of the Zebegény church stood in opposition to its elaborate and decorative interior which the artist avoided. Sher-Gil had attempted a view of the spire of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris a month or so earlier in June 1932. The dark Gothic spire contrasted with the view of the town and the river, and she mentioned the fact that she was also planning to paint an interior of the same cathedral in a letter to her mother [Letter June 1932]. Like Notre Dame, this church was likely in part an academic exercise for Sher-Gil. She had recently been exploring architecture such as in her teacher Lucien Simon's pedagogic exercise to sketch urban department stores in Paris [Letter June 1932]. Less profane, however, is this painting of the Zebegény church, which shows the stylistic range of Sher-Gil, and portrays with confidence the quintessential aspects of Hungary's folk culture-church, village, blue sky. Rakhee Balaram
AMRITA SHER-GIL (1913-1941)

Untitled (Hungarian Village Church)

Details
AMRITA SHER-GIL (1913-1941)
Untitled (Hungarian Village Church)
signed and dated 'Amrita Sher-Gill 1932' (lower left)
oil on canvas
31 5/8 x 22 3/8 in. (80.3 x 56.8 cm.)
Painted in 1932
Provenance
Formerly from the collection of Indira Sundaram, sister of the artist
Literature
Vivan Sundaram ed., Amrita Sher-Gil: A Self-Portrait in Letters and Writings, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 118 and 801 (illustrated twice)
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Lot Essay

Following her training with Lucien Simon at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Sher-Gil felt a strong urge to return to India in 1924. Despite her election as an associate of the Grand Salon there, a rare honour at the time for a young, foreign artist, she noted, "Towards the end of 1933 I began to be haunted by an intense longing to return to India, feeling in some strange inexplicable way that there lay my destiny as a painter." ('Evolution of My Art', reproduced in The Usha, Vol. III, No. II, Lahore, 1942, p. 99)

It was in India that the painter came into her own and produced her most mature works. The critic Gaston Derys noted, that in her works produced in India, "her powerful and individual talent seems to have found its climate" (R.C. Tandan, The Art of Amrita Sher-Gil, Allahabad, 1937, unpaginated). Unfortunately Sher-Gil's time in India, along with her career as an artist, was cut short prematurely by her abrupt death in 1941 at the age of 28. "Regarded by some as the greatest painter of modern India, Amrita Sher-Gil did not have world enough, nor time enough, to realize in full her rare aesthetic vision. She was a realist at heart. Her integrity brooked no dilly-dallying with art. Her almost hieratic devotion to her profession was never tainted with desire for easy lucre or ephemeral recognition." (R. de L. Furtado, Three Painters, New Delhi, 1960, p. 17)

The preparatory drawing for Camels, from the artist's last sketchbook, underlines the clarity with which Sher-Gil treated structure, form and composition, understanding its importance from the work of Post Impressionists like Cézanne, whom she studied during her student days. Additionally, it reflects the "new coherence of her draughtsmanship" that Mulk Raj Anand noted emerging in Sher-Gil's work in the late 1930s following her visits to Ajanta and Cochin, where the ancient Buddhist and Hindu frescoes had a profound effect. (Amrita Sher-Gil, New Delhi, 1987, p. 39)

Writing to her mother Marie Antoinette Sher-Gil on 29 August 1941 from Saraya, she briefly alludes to this sketch among others. "I am doing a lot of drawings of animals. Camels, horses, buffaloes etc. And even propose to paint a picture or two in the short time at my disposal." A few days later, in a letter to her friend Badruddin Tyabji, she elaborates, "I am beginning to get interested in animals. Elephants of course first and foremost, camels and buffaloes. I have done some pictures with elephants and I am working just now on a canvas with camels. Very amusing. There is a curious rose coloured Indian saddle on one of the animals which I find exceedingly lovely." (Reproduced in V. Sundaram ed., Amrita Sher-Gil, A Self Portrait in Letters and Writings, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 741-745)

In 2001, six decades after Sher-Gil's premature death, Vivan Sundaram, her sister Indira's son and renowned multi-media artist, produced the Re-take of Amrita series from the photographic archive of her father, his grandfather, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil. Sundaram has reworked the images and created photomontages, each re-take exploring a facet of the complex personality, relationships and creative practice of his aunt. There is a sense of poignancy that radiates from each of these photomontages, of a bygone era. The viewer is confronted all at once with multiple emotions in relation to the central subject herself, the choice of media and expression by the artist, as well as the relationship between the original photographer, the subject and Vivan Sundaram, the artist himself. A similar confrontation occurs in Sundaram's earlier canvases The Sher-Gil Family (1984-85) and Easel Painting (1989-90, lot 48), where the viewer catches glimpses of family members including Umrao Singh and Amrita.

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