In Dialogue: Amrita Sher-Gil and Lionel Wendt

16 Sep – 31 Oct 2014

Jhaveri Contemporary is pleased to present an exhibition, curated by Shanay Jhaveri, that pairs the Indo-Hungarian painter Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941) with the Ceylonese photographer and polymath Lionel Wendt (1900–1944). Sher-Gil was the daughter of a Punjabi aristocrat and a Jewish opera singer; Wendt’s father was a judge and legislator of Burgher descent, and his Sinhalese mother was a musically cultivated philanthropist. Born into privilege, and of complicated lineage, both artists were, so to speak, inevitably cosmopolitan. Another inevitability follows: the lives of both painter and photographer were marked by the cataclysm of the Great War and the maelstrom of turmoil—aesthetic as well as political—that came in its long wake. 

Cosmopolitanism, when combined with sensitivity and genius, has strong consequences. Each artist grew into a maturity that was formed not only by a deep awareness of the classical past but also by a fine attunement to the international artistic currents of their time.  Sher-Gil returned to India, after a childhood and adolescence spent largely in Europe, in 1934; she was only 28 when she died. Wendt, a classically trained pianist with a British legal education, turned to photography only in the early 1930s. Their bodies of work are crucially preoccupied with the work of the body—specifically, with giving form and structure, rendering into art, the lives of ordinary people. Sher-Gil’s masterful suite of paintings from this period is considered to be her most important work. Wendt’s immense trove of photographs, the concentrated corpus of his last decade, is the most important legacy of a remarkably varied artistic career. 

Wendt’s photographs have never been publicly displayed in India. Many of Sher-Gil’s paintings seen here are on loan from private collections and have never been exhibited. 'In Dialogue' juxtaposes, for the first time, Sher-Gil’s Indian paintings with Wendt’s photographs from Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). This rare visual juxtaposition brings a dynamic interplay into focus, which in turn enriches the appreciation of each artist.  Respecting this dialogue, the curatorial method adopted deliberately eschews a literalistic presentation. Instead, it pursues consideration of individual works, as well as the artistic lineages they collectively embody. The aim is to set the background, and the backdrop as it were, in and against which Amrita Sher-Gil and Lionel Wendt created their great art.