Featured Artist: Abdur Rahman Chughtai
Born on 21 Sep 1897 in Lahore, A R Chugtai was a painter, artist and intellectual from Pakistan, who created his own unique, distinctive painting style influenced by Mughal art, miniature painting, Art Nouveau and Islamic art traditions. Considered to be ‘the first significant modern Muslim artist from Pakistan Chughtai in his works represented the common heritage shared by India and Pakistan. Despite being trained in European aesthetics, Chughtai developed his own style and themes to embodythe essence of traditional Indian art equally cherished by both countries.
Chughtai comes from the family descended from generations of craftsmen, architects, and decorators. He himself learned naqqashi from his uncle Baba Miran Shah Naqqash before joining Mayo school of Arts, Lahore in 1911, at the timewhen Samarendranath Gupta, a pupil of Abanindranath Tagore was Vice-Principal.Chughtai eventually became the head instructor in chromo-lithography at the Mayo School.
On the other hand,Raja Ravi Varma trained in western style of painting brought the principles of Western painting techniques to India. He became a popular figure in developing Indian modern art and with his new approach he gave rise to new art formsincluding calendar art. Although Raja Ravi Verma enjoyed the fame of celebrated artist there were many other artists who saw his adopted style in contrast to traditional Indian art. These artists lead by Abanindranath Tagore felt that Indian art has to find its own identity solemnly through traditional art practices and to establish such practices Bengal School of Art was created. It was a movement that included artists from all over the country including artists based in Bombay and Lahore. A R Chughtai who was based in Lahore became a part of that movement.
Chughtai rejected the hegemony of the British Colonial aesthetics and joined hands with Bengal School of Art to establish an artistic identity indigenous to the subcontinent. His early watercolours take off from the revivalism of the Bengal School of Art and shows the influence of Abanindranath Tagore. By the 1940s, he had created his own style, strongly influenced by Islamic art traditions, but retaining a feel of Art Nouveau. His subject matter was drawn from the legends, folklore and history of the Indo-Islamic world, as well as Punjab, Persia and the world of the Mughals.
The Modern Review magazine published Chughtai’s first work in a revivalist “oriental” style in 1916. In 1920, he held his initial show at the Punjab Fine Art Society. During the 1920s, when he had already gained some notoriety, he also participated in exhibitions with the Indian School of Oriental Art. His creations made a significant contribution to Lahore’s developing modern art scene. Chughtai was mostly a watercolorist, but he also made prints and developed his etching techniques while visiting London in the middle of the 1930s. Bhai Vir Singh used his illustrations to illustrate many of his books of Punjabi poetry, including his well-known epic “Rana Surat Singh” and other well-known poems like “KambadiKalai.”. Chughtai offered his gratitude to Bhai Vir Singh for becoming part of these illustrations as a young artist in his letter to him. He was given the title of Khan Bahadur by the British Empire in India in 1934.
Chughtai was exceedingly well-liked and attracted customers from the Muslim, Hindu, and other communities. He depicted subjects from all major religions. His works on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi include his paintings of Buddha, Holi, and a representation of “Dream” that has a pair that resembles Radha and Krishna. Artists and art enthusiasts from both India and Pakistan appreciate his work. His method gave Indian traditional painting a greater sense of flexibility and freedom.
Chughtai created almost 2000 watercolours during his sixty-year creative career, thousands of pencil sketches, and nearly 300 etchings and aquatints. He also published articles on art and short fiction. He created book covers, insignia, coinage, stamps, and coins. A passionate collector of miniatures and other works of art, too. Three books featuring his own work were released by him: Chughtai’s Paintings in 1940, Naqsh-i-Chughtai in 1935, and Muraqqai-i-Chughtai in 1927. Along with painting, Chughtai also created the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) emblem at the request of Ubaidur Rahman, the organization’s first general manager. Although the logo has seen some minor changes since it was first created, its basic design has not changed.On Pakistan’s Independence Day in 1951, he produced a set of 9 stamps, better known as ‘Chughtai Art set’. At that time, this set was considered as the most beautiful stamps of the world. Amongst the prominent poetic works he illustrated were Diwan-e-Ghalib in Urdu and the Rubaiyyats of Omar Khayyam.
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Chughtai came to be regarded as one of the most famous representatives of Pakistan. Chughtai’s paintings were given to visiting heads of states. Allama Iqbal, Pablo Picasso, Elizabeth II were amongst his admirers.He was awarded Pride of Performance Award in 1958 by the President of Pakistan and recieved Pakistan’s Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Crescent of Excellence) Award in 1960.
The person closest to Chughtai was his younger brother Abdullah Chughtai, an expert and investigator of Islamic art. On January 17, 1975, he passed away in Lahore.Chughtai had a daughter and a son from his two marriages.
Chughtai lived a life full of passion and hardwork his painting style and unparalleled grasp to represent his ideas is admired all over the world. His works are owned by the famous museums and galleries around the globe including The British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi), the Peace Palace (in The Hague), United Nations Headquarters, New York, the Kennedy Memorial in Boston, the US State Department (in Washington, D.C.), President’s House Bonn, AP State Archaeology Museum,Queen Juliana’s Palace in the Netherlands, Emperor’s Palace Bangkok, President House Islamabad, Governors’ Houses in Lahore and Karachi, and the National Art Gallery, Islamabad.. Many of his works are at the Chughtai Museum Trust in Lahore, Pakistan.