The most accomplished women artists of 20th century, Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil lived far apart in opposite sides of the word however despite their contrasting culture and background there is a never ending list of similarities in not just their ground breaking achievements and passion for art but also in other arenas. They were bold and free-spirited, avant-garde women with radical views, much ahead of their time.
Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil (Photo by Nickolas Muray)
Fondness for self-portraits
In her life-time Frida Kahlo created 140 paintings, out of which 55 are self-portraits. Due to a tragic childhood accident, Frida suffered bouts of acute pain for the rest of her life. The experience of excruciating physical pain and emotional turmoil due to her tumultuous personal life is characteristically represented by her in her self-portraits.
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone… because I am the subject I know best. “– Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo’s Self Portraits
Amrita Sher Gil on the other hand was known to be a narcissist, she depicted herself in different avatars with regal poses and atypical moods.
Amrita Sher-Gil’s Self Portraits
Not only did the two artists start new art-styles and techniques but they were also responsible for setting new fashion trends. Frida Kahlo mostly wore traditional Mexican attire, long colorful embroidered dresses with heavy exotic jewelry. She wore bright make-up, vivid colored flowers in her braided hair and boots (mostly bright red or pink) with accessories like bells and tassels on them.
Photo by Nickolas Muray
After finishing her art training in Paris, Amrita decided to passionately rediscover her Indian roots. With that, not only did her art styles take a radical turn, even her dressing style went through a drastic change. She began to wear only Indian ethnic wear. Dazzling saris, large studded jewellery, hair pulled tightly back and bright make up was her signature style.
Image Source- ‘Amrita’ novelized biography by Alfredo De Braganza
Both the artists had parents from different race and culture
Frida’s Hungarian/German-Jewish father immigrated to Mexico where he married her mother who was half Amerindian and half Spanish.
Amrita Sher-Gil father was a Sikh aristocrat and a scholar in Sanskrit and Persian, and her mother was a Jewish opera singer from Hungary.
Turbulent and colorful love life
Frida Kahlo’s marriage with renowned artist Diego Rivera was often troubled. Frida Kahlo had numerous extramarital affairs with both men and women, most of them were in retaliation to her husband’s habitual infidelity. In particular Diego’s affair with Kahlo’s sister left her heart broken and betrayed, she cut off her long hair to express her hear-break.
Amrita led a very bohemian life, the openly bisexual artist had several affairs. Even after her marriage with her Hungarian first cousin, Dr. Victor Egan, she continued with her escapades.
Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera (Left), Amrita Sher-Gil with Victor Egan (Right)
Proud of their Heritage
Both the artists’ artworks are heavily influenced by the ethnicity of their respective cultures. Frida’s subjects and compositions fluently illustrate the Mexican culture, the characteristics of her art style are akin to the Mexican folk art.
‘The Bus’ by Frida Kahlo
Artwork by Frida Kahlo
Sher-Gil was greatly influenced by the Mughal and Pahari schools of painting and the cave paintings at Ajanta. She toured South India to study Indian classical art, her Indian subjects were mostly from rural background, engaged in their daily activities.
“I can only paint in India. Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque…. India belongs only to me”- Amrita Sher-Gil
‘Three Sisters’ by Amrita Sher-Gil
‘Two women’ by Amrita Sher-Gil
Both were part of the revolutionary art movement in Paris and played an important role in the transforming the art scenario in their own native land. In 1939 ‘The Louvre’ bought Frida Kahlo’s paintings ‘The Frame’. It was the first work of a twentieth-century Mexican artist that the Louvre purchased.
‘The Frame’ by Frida Kahlo, (Location- ‘The Louvre’)
Amrita Sher-Gil’s artwork ‘Young Girls’ led to her election as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933, making her the youngest ever and the only Asian to have received this recognition.
‘Young Girls’ by Amrita Sher-Gil, (Location NGMA, New Delhi)
Uncertainty on the cause their death
The official reason of Frida’s death was given as pulmonary embolism set on by pneumonia, but some have speculated that she overdosed on pain killers that may not have been accidental.
Amrita Sher-Gil became seriously ill, went into a coma, and died abruptly. The real reason for her death has never been ascertained. A failed abortion has been suggested as a possible cause. Her mother accused her doctor husband Victor of having murdered her.
The avant-garde women artists were Emblems of feminism in their era.
The subjects of their artworks represented true essence, beauty and spirit of being a woman in the most eloquent manner.
‘The Two Frida’s’ by Frida Kahlo
‘Bride’s Toilet’ by Amrita Sher-Gil, (Location NGMA, New Delhi)