Abdur Rahman Chughtai

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Abdur Rahman Chughtai
Abdur Rahman Chughai.jpg
Born(1894-09-21)September 21, 1894[1]
Lahore, Punjab, British India[1]
DiedJanuary 17, 1975(1975-01-17) (aged 80)[1]
Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan[1]
MovementChughtai style of painting
AwardsHilal-i-Imtiaz and Pride of Performance awards

Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1894–1975) 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. He is considered 'the first significant modern Muslim artist from South Asia',[2] and the national artist of Pakistan.[1] He was given the title of Khan Bahadur by the British Empire in India in 1934, awarded Pakistan's Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 1960, and the Presidential medal for Pride of Performance in 1958.

Early life and career[edit]

Chughtai was born on 21 Sep 1894 in Lahore, now in Pakistan.[1][3] He was born in Lahore in the area known as 'Mohalla Chabuk Sawaran', the second son of Karim Bukhsh, in a family descended from generations of craftsmen, architects, and decorators. Chughtai briefly learnt naqqashi from his uncle Baba Miran Shah Naqqash at a local mosque.[3] After completing his education at the Railway Technical School, Lahore, in 1911, Chughtai joined the Mayo School of Arts, Lahore, 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.[4]

Letter of Chugtai to Bhai Vir Singh

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.[3] 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.[5] His sketches were used in many books in Punjabi poetry by Bhai Vir Singh for illustrating his famous poems like "Kambadi Kalai" and including his famous epic "Rana Surat Singh" . Chughtai offered his gratitude to Bhai Vir Singh for becoming part of these illustrations as a young artist in his letter to him on 11.04.1929[6]

In his sixty years of artistic creation, Chughtai produced nearly 2000 watercolours, 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.[3] He published three books of his own work: the Muraqqai-i-Chughtai (1928), Naqsh-i-Chughtai (c. 1935) and Chughtai's Paintings (1940).[7] 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[2] and in its time, was considered the finest achievement in book production in the country. [8]

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.

Chughtai's closest associate was his younger brother Abdullah Chughtai, a scholar and researcher of Islamic art.[2] Chughtai married twice, and had two children, a son and daughter. He died in Lahore on 17 January 1975.[3]


Chughtai's early watercolours take off from the revivalism of the Bengal School of Art – his Jahanara and the Taj, for instance, shows the influence of Abanindranath's The Last Moments of Shah Jahan.[4] 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.[1]

Abdur Rahman Chughtai also designed the logo for the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) at the behest of its first general manager, Ubaidur Rahman. The logo has been tweaked and modified over the years since its inception but remains fundamentally the same. 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.[9]

Artist and gallery owner Salima Hashmi deems Chughtai one of South Asia’s foremost painters. “He was part of the movement that started in the early part of the 20th century to establish an identity indigenous to the subcontinent,” she said. “He rejected the hegemony of the British Colonial aesthetic.”[citation needed]

Painting exhibits[edit]

Chughtai's works are displayed at the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, 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,[10] 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.[citation needed]. Many of his works are at the Chughtai Museum Trust in Lahore, Pakistan.


  • Amal-i Chughtaʾi: Poet of the East Lahore: Self-published, 1968.
  • Chughtai’s Indian Paintings. New Delhi: Dhoomi Mal, 1951.
  • Chughtai’s Paintings. 2nd ed. Lahore: Print Printo Press, 1970.
  • Lahaur ka dabistan-i musavviri. Lahore: Chughtai Museum Trust, 1979.
  • Maqalat-i Chughtaʾi. 2 vols. Islamabad: Idarah-yi Saqafat-i Pakistan, 1987.
  • Muraqqaʿ-i Chughtaʾi. Lahore: Jahangir Book Club, 1928.
  • Naqsh-i Chughtaʾi: Divan-i Ghalib Musavvir. Lahore: Ahsan Bradarz, 1962.

Other works[edit]

Among Chughtai's popularly known works are the logos of Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan and his painting of Anarkali for the cover of a 1992 drama. Additionally, one of the most successful UNICEF cards features a Chughtai piece. He was also known for his designs of postage stamps.[11] United Nations Organization art correspondent Jacob-Baal Teshuva wrote that Chughtai’s paintings are the largest set released in 1948.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Profile of Abdur Rahman Chughtai". Encyclopædia Britannica., Retrieved 16 Nov 2016
  2. ^ a b c Iftikhar Dadi (15 May 2010). Modernism and the art of Muslim South Asia. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-3358-2. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Biography at Chughtai Museum website". Chughtai Museum., Retrieved 16 Nov 2016
  4. ^ a b Partha Mitter (1994). Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850–1922: Occidental Orientations. Cambridge University Press. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-521-44354-8. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  5. ^ "Profile of Abdur Rahman Chughtai, 1897–1975". Charles Moore Fine Arts., Retrieved 16 Nov 2016
  6. ^ Abdul Rehman Chugtai's letter dtd 11/04/1929 Lahore preserved in Bhai Vir Singh Memorial House, Amritsar
  7. ^ Jonathan M. Bloom; Sheila Blair (2009). The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. pp. 489–. ISBN 978-0-19-530991-1. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
  8. ^ G. Venkatachalam (1948). Contemporary Indian Painters. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
  9. ^ http://artocraft.blogspot.com/2010/09/abdul-rehman-chughtai-his-paintings.html, Profile of Abdur Rahman Chughtai on artocraft.com website, Retrieved 16 Nov 2016
  10. ^ "Andhra Pradesh State Archaeology Museum". Archived from the original on 15 February 2012. Retrieved 16 Nov 2016.
  11. ^ NCA and Stamp Design, National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, 2000 p. 5
  12. ^ Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Stanley Gibbons Limited, London, UK 2005 1st edition p. 18

External links[edit]