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Muslim Legends

Abdur Rahman Chughtai, A Great Painter

Abdur ur Rehman Chughtai is considered one of the great painters of Pakistan. He did very memorable work regarding Muslim culture and Mughal art. Not only this, Chughtai also created magnificent paintings in the background of Buddhism and Hinduism. And his immensely unique and varied work on Mughal miniatures is so profound and meaningful that this style is known worldwide as Chughtai,s Art.

He is considered ‘the first significant modern Muslim artist from South Asia. 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.

Chughtai was born in Lahore on 21 September 1894 in the area known as ‘Mohalla Chabuk Sawaran’, the second son of Karim Bukhsh. Chughtai briefly learned naqqashi from his uncle Baba Miran Shah Naqqash at a local mosque. After completing his education at the Railway Technical School, Lahore, in 1911, Chughtai joined the Mayo School of Art, where Samarendranath Gupta, a pupil of Abanindranath Tagore was Vice-Principal. After leaving the school, he made a living for a while as a photographer and drawing teacher. He eventually became the head instructor in chromo-lithography at the Mayo School.

In 1916, Chughtai’s first painting in a revivalist ‘oriental’ style appeared in the Modern Review. He had his first exhibition in 1920 at the Punjab Fine Art Society. He also exhibited with the Indian School of Oriental Art during the 1920s, by which time he had become quite renowned. His work contributed greatly to Lahore’s burgeoning modern art scene. Whilst he predominantly worked with watercolors, Chughtai was also a print-maker, perfecting his etching skills in London during visits in the mid-1930s.

In his sixty years of artistic creation, Chughtai produced nearly 2000 watercolors, thousands of pencil sketches, and nearly 300 etchings and aquatints. He also wrote short stories, and articles on art. He designed stamps, coins, insignia, and book covers. He was also an avid collector of miniatures and other art. He published three books of his own work: the Muraqqai-i-Chughtai (1928), Naqsh-i-Chughtai (c. 1935), and Chughtai’s Paintings (1940). The Muraqqa-i-Chughtai was a sumptuously illustrated edition of Mirza Ghalib’s Urdu poetry, with a foreword by Sir Muhammad Iqbal. It is regarded as the most significant work of Chughtai’s career and in its time, was considered the finest achievement in book production in the country.

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 gifted to visiting heads of state. Allama Iqbal, Pablo Picasso, and Elizabeth II were said to be amongst his admirers. The great painter died on January 17, 1977, at the age of 81, and will always be remembered in the world of painting.


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