Artist Gallery: Mohammad Abdur Rahman Chughtai
Md. Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1897–1975) was a painter and intellectual from Pakistan, who created his own unique, distinctive painting style influenced by Mughal art, miniature painting, Art Nouveau and Islamic art traditions. He comes from a family which for generations has produced architects, engineers, painters and decorators. His work draws from a shared South Asian cultural heritage, and he was one of the few Pakistani artists to be recognized in India before and after the 1947 partition. He is considered ‘the first significant modern Muslim artist from South Asia’, and the national artist of Pakistan. He was given the title of Khan Bahadur in 1934, awarded Pakistan’s Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 1960, and the Presidential medal for Pride of Performance in 1968.
His individual style was formed in the years before 1947, so the main body of his work was produced before Pakistan was born. His distinctive style, as discussed before, was influenced by Mughal art, miniature paintings, Art Nouveau and Islamic art traditions. Chughtai admitted himself to Lahore’s Mayo School of Art, where he was taught by Samarendranath Gupta, himself a pupil of Abanindranath Tagore. The school back then, emphasized crafts more than art. He did not stay there very long and started learning on his own, concentrating on the traditional methods and techniques of Mongol artists. Then, he moved on to Calcutta and worked there for several years, painting in Bengal School Style. Chughtai’s early watercolours take off from the revivalism of the Bengal School of Art. By 1923, when he was only 24, he started developing his style of drawing luscious, languid, narcissus-eyes and stylized figures with erotic overtones and heavy with fictional contents.
He also introduced him to some of Western art techniques, chiefly as practiced by Victorian artists, and to the cave painting of Ajanta, which were then in process of being re-discovered by contemporary painters. It was in formative phase of his career that Chughtai imbibed certain stylization and mannerism, including extensive use of architectural motifs and pictorial nuances, which mark his illustrational paintings of this period. In 1927, Chughtai published Muraqqa, his first major work, which comprised a series of illustrations he made for new edition of the thought-heavy and highly imaginative verses of Ghalib, 19th century ” poet’s poet” of Urdu and Persian.
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. Chughtai’s work typically portrayed Hindu deities and famous personalities from Islamic and Hindu dynasties—Mughal and Rajuput princes. He depicted gods and courtesans with equal affection. Many of his paintings were large-format—exuberant, expansive works rendered in soft, meditative colors and bold, flowing lines. Even his smaller paintings and drawings seem somehow to contain the same freeness.
As mentioned earlier, he came from a family which for generations has produced architects, engineers, painters and decorators. A possible reason could be picked up from the book Punjab Paintings by R.P. Srivastava, which analyses that most of the painters from Punjab were “working in conditions of discomfort for petty and often capricious patrons”. The book further details that “the only exception that has come to our notice is that of the Chughtai family which enjoyed respectable status in the time of Ranjit Singh and even after. Their ancestor, Mian Salah Mimar, held an important position in the Lahore Durbar; his decendant, Abdur Rahman Chughtai was a renowned artist of the India-Pakistan continent. His two brothers, Dr. M Abdullah Chughtai and M. Abur Rahim Chughtai are art historians and art critics of very high order.”
His son, Mr. Arif Rahman Chughtai, has continued his fathers legacy in the form of the Chughtai Museum. Mr. Arif Chughtai, also an art collector, has some signed specimens of the famous “Naqqash” Baba Miran Buksh and Mian Hayat Mohammad in his private collection.