25 October 1926
|Died||16 December 2007 (aged 81)|
|Known for||Islamic calligraphy, Painting, Sculptures|
Early life and education
Gulgee was born on 25 October 1926 at Karimpura locality in Peshawar, Pakistan. For his education, he went to Lawrence College Murree and then to Aligarh University to study civil engineering. Then he went to the US to continue his higher education. While he was an engineering student at Columbia University in the United States, he started to paint. Later, Gulgee also studied at Harvard University.
Before 1959, as a portraitist, Gulgee painted the entire Afghan Royal Family. In the early 1960s, he turned to abstract painting. Gulgee was a skilled naturalistic portrait painter who had enjoyed (according to Partha Mitter) "lavish state support" and plenty of elite commissions in this capacity. Nevertheless, he was perhaps best known worldwide for his abstract work, which was inspired by Islamic calligraphy and was also influenced by the "action painting" movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Some people say that Elaine Hamilton was a strong influence on him. In both Islamic calligraphy and action painting, a high value is placed on the unity and energy of gestural flow. Gulgee's canvases were often quite large in the tradition of other action painters or abstract expressionists. Sometimes he used materials such as mirror glass and gold or silver leaf in his oil paintings. Therefore, in fact, they appeared to be mixed media pieces.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see external links): "Gulgee's calligraphy paintings are abstract and gestural interpretations of Arabic and Urdu letters. His sweeping layers of paint explore the formal qualities of oil paint while they make references to Islamic design elements." 
Beginning in the 1960s (if not earlier), Gulgee (along with his younger brother Agha Sadaruddin (a well known filmmaker and Time & Life photographer), also created sculptures, including bronze pieces that were (like so many of his paintings) calligraphic in form and inspiration, and sometimes specifically based on verses from the Quran.
His son Amin Gulgee is also a famous artist.
International and special assignments
Gulgee held his first painting exhibition in 1950.
Gulgee's exhibitions have mostly been available to few people. Keeping that in mind and high public demand, an art gallery for Gulgee has been built in Clifton, Karachi, near South City Hospital and Sea View Karachi. Gulgee mostly painted for his own inspiration and vision. Although selected paintings are displayed at Clifton Art Gallery.
Awards and recognition
- Pride of Performance Award in 1970 by the President of Pakistan
- Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence) Award in 1982 by the Government of Pakistan
- Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Crescent of Excellence) Award in 1995 by the President of Pakistan
Gulgee, his wife Zarrin Gulgee and a maid were found dead by strangulation in their house on the evening of 19 December 2007 by his servants. Police suspect that all three had been murdered. While the bodies were found on the 19th, officials report that they had apparently been deceased for three days, leading to a speculative death date of 16 December 2007. Their bodies were found bound and gagged in separate rooms of the house. The initial cause of death for all three had been attributed to suffocation. According to press reports, his son reported that Gulgee's car and driver were missing and a foul smell coming from his parents' home. Gulgee was buried on the evening of 20 December 2007 in Karachi.
Meanwhile, Gulgee's driver and another servant were arrested by the police as suspects and tried in court. The court case lingered on for many years. Finally, in May 2017, both of them were convicted and handed down life imprisonment sentences.
- Islamic calligraphy (primary source of inspiration for Gulgee's abstract works)
- Action painting (Gestural abstraction)
- Elaine Hamilton (American action painter and colleague who influenced Gulgee, according to Partha Mitter)
- Mixed media
- Abstract expressionism
- Amjad Ali, S. Gulgee, Versatile Artist. Islamabad: Idara Saqafat-e-Pakistan, 1984 OCLC 12811086 (Worldcat link: )
- Ismaili, Mohammad. Gulgee (Lahore: Ferozsons, 2000) ISBN 969-0-01428-5
- Mitter, Partha. Indian art (Oxford History of Art) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) ISBN 0-19-284221-8 (This book deals with the history of art in the entire South Asian subcontinent, including what are today modern Pakistan and Bangladesh.)
- Naqvi, Akbar. Image and Identity: Fifty Years of Painting and Sculpture in Pakistan. (Karachi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
- "Top Pakistani artist 'murdered'". BBC News website. 19 December 2007. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
- "Gulgee profile". Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government (kp.gov.pk) website. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
- "Pakistani artist Ismail Gulgee found murdered". CBC News. 19 December 2007. Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
- Profile of Ismail Gulgee on artnet.com website Retrieved 6 July 2019
- Ismail Gulgee (profile) Clifton Art Gallery website, Retrieved 6 July 2019
- Zubair Ashraf (23 May 2017). "Gulgee, wife's murderers handed down life imprisonment". The Express Tribune (newspaper). Retrieved 6 July 2019.