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Why Amrita Sher Gil refused to draw the portrait of Jawahar Lal Nehru?

Amrita Sher Gil was a rebel and believed in living life on her own terms. She scandalised the society of her times with her various love affairs and unconventional ways. The legacy and thought she left at the age of 28 are unmatched till now. With a rebellious nature, the artist depicted sensitive figures and cultural and regional practices. Art historian Yashodhara Dalmia, in the biography Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life, provided a gripping portrait of the artist.

Cover page of book ‘Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life’

Amrita met Nehru in Delhi, which the author characterises as possibly the only exciting thing that happened to her that she did not find conducive to painting. In the midst of all the formality in the city, Nehru stood out as being really different. Despite their correspondence and occasional meetings, she never did a portrait of Nehru. She said that she would never paint Nehru because “he is too beautiful looking” when Iqbal Singh, whom she met in Shimla in the summer of 1937 and who became a close friend and confidant, once asked her why she had not painted Nehru’s portrait.

Nehru later sent Amrita a copy of his autobiography. She thanked him and wrote: As a rule, I dislike biographies and autobiographies. They ring false pomposity and exhibitionism. But I think I will like yours. You are able to discard your halo occasionally. You are capable of saying, ‘When I saw the sea for the first time,’ when others would say, ‘When the sea saw me for the first time.’

Image of Nehru with Amrita

“I should have liked to know you better. I am always attracted to people who are integral enough to be inconsistent without discordance and who don’t trail viscous threads of regret behind them. I don’t think that it is on the threshold of life that one feels chaotic, it is when one has crossed the threshold that one discovers that things which looked simple and feelings that felt simple are infinitely more tortuous and complex. ” That it is only in inconsistency that there is any consistency. But of course you have got an orderly mind. I don’t think you were interested in my paintings really. You looked at my pictures without seeing them. You are not hard. You have got a mellow face. I like your face, it is sensitive, sensual and detached at the same time.”

“The exact nature of their relationship is difficult to gauge, because many of Nehru’s letters were later burnt by Amrita’s parents, much to her chagrin, while she was away in Budapest getting married.”



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