With her scenes of village life, Amrita Sher-Gil dedicated herself to painting the ‘true’ India. Strikingly attractive, outspoken and intelligent, she died suddenly at only 28. Salman Rushdie on the inspiration for his flamboyant heroine in The Moor’s Last Sigh.
“In the mid-1990s, when I began to think about my novel The Moor’s Last Sigh, I soon realised that it would contain an account of the character (and also the work) of an entirely imaginary 20th-century Indian woman painter. I thought about my friendships and acquaintanceships with a number of fine contemporary artists – Krishen Khanna, Bhupen Khakhar, Gulam Mohammad Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram, Anish Kapoor – and of others I did not know personally but whose work I admired – Pushpamala, Navjot, Sudhir Patwardhan, Gieve Patel, Dhruva Mistry, Arpana Caur, Laxma Goud, Ganesh Pyne. The work of all these painters helped me think about the pictures my fictional Aurora Zogoiby might create. But the figure that, so to speak, “gave me permission” to imagine her personality, to invent a woman painter at the very heart of modern art in India – to believe in the possibility of such a woman – was an artist I never met, who died tragically young, and whom I first encountered in a luminous painting by Vivan Sundaram, her nephew. That artist was Amrita Sher-Gil.”