Chughtai: A Pakistani Scholar-Artist
by Rashda Faridi
Abdur Rehman Chughtai was born on September 21, 1889 at Mohalla Chabuk Sawaran, in the old city of Lahore. He started his education at Chimney-Wali mosque and then went on to study art in Lahore and abroad. He achieved much fame and acclaim during his lifetime. He died at his birthplace in Lahore on January 17, 1975.
Chughtai was a great scholar-artist steeped in Mughal traditions and at the same time reached out curiously towards the sources of Western inspiration. Chughtai may be viewed as a sensitive mediator between the past and the present. One can see Mughal architecture displayed in his works: arches and splendid courtyards skillfully decorated with geometric and floral designs. He was the master of the delicate art of “naqqashi.” In his figures are smooth movements and controlled gestures to half-closed oriental eyes, beautiful long fingers, and slender figures wearing royal dresses.
Chughtai grew up during the time of British cultural and political domination. He was able to recreate personages of arid atmosphere that reflected the refinement and grandeur of Mughal India. The miniature format was done away with and a whole cosmos of elegant and sublime figures were created, narrating implicit episodes. One of his paintings, “Jehangir and Nur Jehan,” shows not only elevated figures in marvelous costumes, composed in carefully balanced soothing harmonies; but also Chughtai’s great gifts in creating soft and mellow colorist compositions which reflect the politeness and cultural distinctions of the figures portrayed. Chughtai said, that he wanted to create a “classical” art in his homeland. He was the lover of the earth tones. Mellow oriental colors were laid down in broad decorative washes. He commented in his book: “The Lahore School of Painting”, that his paintings are related to his ancestors and also to the historic Islamic, Iranian and Mughal traditions.
Sotheby’s of London and New York recently sold many of his paintings this last year alone. Chughtai’s paintings are highly desirable today in the artworld and is one of the most sought after artist. His painting of Radha and Krishna was sold in June of 1998 at Sotheby’s for $56,400 setting a new world record for Chughtai’s paintings. Pakistan has produced some great artists, but indeed Chughtai is “something else”, and his rarefied vision and universal appeal, merits as his son Arif Rehman Chughtai has been emphatically espousing for a number of years – the realization of the Chughtai Museum. The Museum trust already exists but is in need of more support.
Dear Ms Sangeeta:
Thanks for your information. The art world at present is allergic to Chughtai and fearful of Chughtai Museum. We are independent people who love our country and are very proud of our ideology. The present set up does not like the word ideology. Ever since my father died in 1975, the Culture people are trying to bankrupt us or move us out of existence. That is why M A Rahman Chughtai is deliberately neglected by the Govt of Pakistan. It is my efforts internationally which upsets them. The people here love Chughtai and he is the father of art in Pakistan. Alhamra was founded by my father, the insignia designed by him, the name given by him…we will talk more when we meet. You must see our establishment. You will love our efforts and you will love us. Best wishes ARIF RAHMAN CHUGHTAI
Artists in Pakistan seemed to be divided into camps for whatever reasons, like it is everywhere else. I decided to keep politics out of my conversation when I visited Arif on the second day of my trip to Lahore. The Chughtai Museum is in the middle of a rapidly expanding city. It has a large holding of land, many old trees and a museum complex that is still being built. Arif took us to his office, where he generously showed us many paintings by his father and I fell in love with the Chughtai paintings all over again. Chughtai was born in Lahore in 1897 and his paintings are an exquisite synthesis of Persian and Mughal styles. His love for women, beauty and nature are expressed with sensitive and sensuous lines and colours, his compositions are amazingly varied and reveal aremarkable eye for detail.
The Museum Trust in Lahore has over 10,000 works by Chughtai: watercolours, pencil drawings, aquatints and etchings, block prints, naqashis, calligraphy, stamp designs, coin designs, national and international insignias and illustrations. It was clear we were face to face with the works of a great master whose artistic career spanned 60 years.
There are Chughtais scattered in museums and collections all over the world.
WORLD RECORD PRICE FOR A CHUGHTAI
(15 October 2005)
Lady with a blue flower by Abdur Rahman Chugtai.
Bonhams latest sale of Indian and Islamic Art made a total of £2,042,908 - a result driven by hugely enthusiastic bidding for modern and contemporary Indian and Pakistani paintings.
Abdur Rahman Chughtai's, 'Guarded Beauty' £66,000 (estimate £40,000 to £60,000). Lot 247 was a world record price for Chughtai.
More of Chughtai's work can Ve viewed here: