Sher-Gil was aware of her oddity as a painter
From Amrita Sher-Gil to Abanindranath Tagore, there have been incredible paintings to have come out of India.
The artwork of these famous painters represents the colour, vibrancy, and culture of the country whilst also depicting emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
There are thousands of paintings that focus on the Indian environment and surroundings.
However, there are some more notable pieces that are well-known for their showcase of Indian women.
What makes these artworks so poignant is how they manage to capture the delicacy, strength, and strife of the individuals.
But, the skill and craftsmanship of each portrait are equally compelling and impressive.
So, here are the most famous paintings of Indian women to feast your eyes upon.
The Three Pujarins
As one of the trailblazers that adopted the modernistic style of painting, Jamini Roy was trained in the British academic style.
However, he was an artist who constantly wanted to go against the grain. As Google Arts describes:
“Jamini Roy consciously rejected the style and searched for forms that stirred the innermost recesses of his being.”
One of his most compelling pieces is ‘The Three Pujarins’. Visually, it’s bold with colours and the mix of curvature and strict lines help propel the expressions of the ladies.
Whilst it may seem simplistic, many think the eyes of the women tell a symbolic story.
Compared to the shape of almonds, the eyes are squinted but still open enough to draw you in and one can become lost in what story the painting is telling.
The piece was done on paper and the three women are dressed in traditional Bengali clothes. Their heads are covered in a vibrant indigo colour, which is a historical reference to the Indigo movement of that time.
‘The Three Pujarins’ is also an ode to South Asian fashion with Roy delicately embellishing the ladies with bindis, bangles, nose rings and head lockets.
The painting was showcased in the Jamini Roy exhibition (Journey to the Roots 1887 – 1972) at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.
‘Three Girls’ was painted by none other than Amrita Sher-Gil in 1935 and still stands as one of her most iconic pieces.
Similar to Jamini Roy, Sher-Gil was also academically trained but leaned towards a more modern and flatter style of painting.
This is what provided the foundation for the ‘Three Girls’.
In the artwork, viewers are met with three rural young women who seem on the verge of adulthood, questioning their next stage in life which would ultimately be marriage.
Speaking on the piece, Sher-Gil revealed:
“I am personally trying to be through color and design, the medium of line, and the interpreter of the life of the people, particularly the life of the poor and sad.”
What’s most interesting about this painting is that the girls are actually Sher-Gil’s cousins and she had a knack for interpreting the life of “poor Indians”.
The reason for this, and why the ‘Three Girls’ is so famous, is because it represents silent images of India’s society and the submission some women have to go through.
Bani Thani Portrait
Perhaps one of the most famous paintings of an Indian woman is this gorgeous piece that is attributed to Nihal Chand.
Bani Thani was a singer and poet in Kishangarh during the rule of King Sawant Singh, whose mistress she became after he abdicated the throne.
The beauty within the painting has often been compared to the Mona Lisa.
But it’s the striking features of Bani Thani that makes this artwork so unforgettable.
The pointed chin, arched eyebrows, lotus eyes, sensuous lips, and curls of hair are just some of the elements used to tie the whole portrait together.
‘Mohini’ was painted by Raja Ravi Varma who is considered one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian art.
Fusing European styles with Indian iconography, Varma created this captivating piece to capture the only woman avatar of a Hindu deity.
Mohini was considered an enchantress and could make people fall in love with her so deeply that it would be their downfall.
The painting shows the figure in a pure white sari sitting on a swing, surrounded by the vibrant and naturalistic Indian landscape.
The romantic nature of the piece is shown through the tonal colours and hits of gold and yellow.
The detail in Mohini’s hair and face touches your soul and the mix of blue and orange in the sky encompasses the Indian warmth.
It remains one of Varma’s most recongised pieces and also one of the most famous Indian paintings in the world.
Tamil Girl with her Parrots
One of the most fascinating paintings to come out of India is done by S Elayaraja who is known for his use of oils.
The artist paints with such skill that his artwork often looks like real photographs. But, that is just an ode to his incredible attention to detail.
His most well-known piece is ‘Tamil Girl with her Parrots’ which has gained a lot of worldwide recognition.
A girl sits with her parrots and subtly smiles at the viewer, with innocence in her eyes.
Whilst the girl is at the forefront of the picture, it’s Elayaraja’s focus on her surroundings which makes this painting pop.
The cemented golden floors show compassion, the green sari is the epitome of affection and the dash of maroon symbolises love and relaxation.
The artist grew up in Tamil Nadu and this artwork represents the admiration of the cultural background that came with his upbringing.
Glow of Hope
‘Glow of Hope’ is also known as the ‘Woman With the Lamp’ and is a painting done by S L Haldnakar.
This watercolour masterpiece focuses on a sole woman, surrounded by darkness, holding a lamp in one hand and covering the light in the other.
The hue of the lamp is what gives the whole painting its brightness and this little light represents the glow of hope that people hold onto in their lives.
Interestingly, the woman is actually Haldnakar’s daughter and it is believed, she stood still for three hours to ensure her father could complete the piece perfectly.
Whilst the light is the main message of the painting, it’s the use of shadows that really accentuates the lady’s expression.
The ‘Glow of Hope’ has become one of the staples of Indian art and is housed at the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery in Mysore, India.
Self-Portrait as Tahitian
Rounding off this list is another piece by Amrita Sher-Gil titled ‘Self-Portrait as Tahitian’.
Created in 1934, this painting is explicit, and unapologetic and stands for more than just a nude portrait.
Sher-Gil’s attention is off-canvas but her eyebrows are fixated with concentration.
She seems uncomfortable yet highly aware of people staring at her (those people being the viewer).
The drawings in the background seem to have an East Asian theme, again drawing to Sher-Gil’s influences as an artist.
Or, perhaps they are meant to serve as a distraction.
The painting represents how Sher-Gil was aware of her oddity as a painter, that during her time she was observed as an “exotic other”.
Interestingly, the shadows on the woman’s body could symbolise the viewer’s shadow and that she is aware of people staring at her, acknowledging their gaze but choosing to ignore it.
These paintings do truly show how Indian art is considered so important to the artistic world.
The women depicted in these pieces illustrate different moments in history, as well as showcase the culture and beliefs of different individuals.
The expression, colours, and skill used to create such vivid portrayals of life are magnificent and should be appreciated by everyone.