Amrita Sher-Gil and Elizabeth Brunner are two Hungarian painters who had made India their home. While Amrita was born to Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, a Persian and Sanskrit scholar, and Marie Antoniette Gottesmann, a Hungarian singer, in 1913 in Budapest, Elizabeth was born in 1909 to painters Ferenc Sass and Elizabeth Sass-Brunner in a small town Nagykaniza.
Elizabeth died in the year 1950. By the time she was five, Amrita had started painting. In the year 1921, her family shifted from Hungary to India and settled down in Shimla. She died in the year 1941, aged 28 after a serious illness.
Amrita Sher-Gil is often considered as the pioneer of modern art in the country as her works influenced and inspired a number of modern day greats. There is even a road named after her in Lutyen's Delhi, known as the Amrita Shergil Marg. Budapest’s Indian cultural centre has been named after her.
It is a known fact that Indians know much about Amrita and her life, few know about the life and the contributions of Elizabeth. So, it was apt that the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) decided to bring out a book, Brunners' Oeuvre, a collection of her selected paintings from the collection of IGNCA's cultural archives, in collaboration with Liszt Institute - Hungarian Cultural Centre in New Delhi.
Edited by Prof (Dr) Ramesh C Gaur, Dr Shilpa Roy and Ms Ginjan V Josh, the book is published by IGNCA.
Elizabeth and her mother first went to Shantiniketan and met Rabindranath Tagore, whom they met while he was in Budapest. Brunner recounts her Shantiniketan meeting with Tagore, “When we arrived, he was about to come down the stairway. Catching sight of my mother, he exclaimed, stretching out his arms, “So you have come.” They flew towards each other and I saw their hearty embrace. Then he came and greeted me. He seemed to come straight out of a fairy tale with his silky white hair and beard, his smiling face, and half-closed eyes, his radiant expression of understanding and sympathy, and his imposing figure and beautiful hands.”
Her first portrait at Shantiniketan was of Tagore. She was so successful in capturing his spirit that it led to an open invitation to his study so that she could paint him whenever she wanted.
In 1934, the Brunners met Mahatma Gandhi. When she expressed her wish to paint him, Gandhi asked, “Why do you want to paint an ugly man like me?” To which she replied, “Oh, but I want to paint your spirit.” He was doubtful but granted her 30 minutes to paint him.
When the portrait was handed over to him, he expressed his approval and signed it. The news flashed the country, ‘Hungarian artist paints the Mahatma in half an hour.’ He told us that we could come anytime we pleased to observe him freely through his daily routine.”
At the book release function, ambassador of Hungary to India Istvan Szabo said both countries cooperate in many areas including cultural ties. "Both Amrita and Elizabeth are Hungarian daughters of India."
Others present on the occasion were Chief Editor Sachchidanand Joshi, visiting Assistant Professor, Hungarian language, Delhi University Margit Koves, and Director & Cultural Counsellor, Liszt Institute Mariamm Erdo.
Read More: Books on IFP