Abdur Rahman Chughtai was born at Lahore on 21st September, 1894 in British India. His father was Karim Baksh who was from a family of generations of craftsmen and artists. 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, a pioneer of Bengal School of Art, 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.
Life and legacy
Chughtai’s first painting first appeared in the ‘’Modern Review” in 1916. He continued to paint and his first exhibition was in 1920 at Punjab Fine art Society. He visited London in 1932 and 1936 to learn etching skills, printmaking and aquatinting which he learnt from Paul Drury, Douglas Ian Smart and Bill Robbins respectively. Abdur Rahman Chughtai’s work was colossal which he had executed in 60 years. Chughtai produced nearly 2000 watercolours, thousands of pencil sketches, and nearly 300 etchings and aquatints. He died on 17th January 1975 leaving behind a huge legacy.
A decorated genius
He published four books of his own work: the Muraqqai-i-Chughtai (1927), Naqsh-i-Chughtai (1935), Chughtai's paintings (1929) and Amal-i Chughtaʾi/Iqbal : Poet of the East (1968). Some other works on him include Indian Paintings (1951), Lahaur ka dabistan-i musavviri (1979) and Maqalat-i Chughtaʾi (1987). The Muraqqa-i-Chughtai was a richly illustrated edition of Mirza Ghalib's Urdu poetry with a foreword by Sir Muhammad Iqbal. It is regarded as the most sign significant work of Chughtai's career as an artist. He got many recognitions for his work; he was awarded the title of ‘’Khan Bahadur’’ by the British Empire in 1934. He received the ‘’Hilal-i-Imtiaz’’ in 1960 by the President of Pakistan.
The Salar Jung Museum collection
The Museum has a collection of beautiful ‘Chughtai Art’ from the 20th century. The themes vary from depictions of Laila Majnun, a lady lighting a lamp, a stylised peacock among few others.
Each painting has been enhanced with embellishments like dainty flowers, ornate architecture, and other objects. This exhibit gives us glimpses of his exquisite work through these paintings which have an ethereal feel and ambience.
A world of fusion
A painting style which was a fusion of many styles with themes from Islamic history and literature, Hindu mythology, Mughal miniatures, Punjabi folklore came to be known as ‘Chugtai Art’. He designed coins, book covers, stamps, jewellery, and textiles.
He undertook calligraphy work at mosques. His human figures are always dressed elegantly, have elongated stylised figures with sensuous half closed eyes, and compositions with flowers, trees, animals, and Indo –Saracenic architecture.
Lost in thought (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
Lost In Thought
This painting shows a woman ‘Lost in thought' holding a rosary and a book of prayers in her right hand. She is dressed in a yellow dress with an ornate blue border.
Romantic scene (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
A ‘Romantic Scene’ which shows two lovers in the middle of an argument, with the lady trying to woo her beloved who is holding a book and is turning away from her.
Two Ladies by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
The work 'Two ladies’ depicts two friends together in repose holding flowers. The painting has bell shaped flowers around it, against a marbled background
Laila and Majnu (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
This paintings is based on a scene from the famous love story of Arabic origin, ‘Laila- Majnu’. Laila has gone to meet Majnu in the desert where he is pining for her.
Lady Lighting a Lamp Lady Lighting a Lamp (20th Century) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
Lady Lighting a Lamp
‘Lady lighting a lamp’ wearing dainty jewellery and a light coloured drape is a masterpiece depicting the time of dusk and the ritual of a lamp being lit to ward off the darkness. The light has enveloped her in a soft glow.
The spell of music (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
The Spell of Music
The lady depicted in ‘Spell of Music’ seems to be ready to play on the musical instrument kept in front of her. There are cypresses in the background along with other flowering plants.
Lady beside a grave (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
Lady Beside a Grave
‘A Lady Beside a Grave' is grieving over the loss of a loved one. Her companion stands before her. The grave has an inscription and is in front of a latticed arch shaped alcove.
Man behind a tomb (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
Man Behind a Tomb
‘A Man Behind a Tomb’ catches the sombre moment of a man sitting near a domed latticed tomb looking up at the moonlit sky and seems to be prayerful.
Lovers (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
A romantic scene depicting two ‘lovers’ who are reminiscent of Radha-Krishna. They are standing in an architectural space with hills in the backdrop.
Lady under a tree (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
Lady Under a Tree
‘A lady under a tree’ depicts a woman at ease with herself. She seems to be dressing up for the day, amidst a natural landscape.
A Lady (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
'A Lady’ with a fly-whisk made of peacock feather is shown standing wearing a dress with an ornamental border.
Peacock (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum
The painting is of a white peacock on a tree branch with the Taj Mahal in the backdrop. The splendid whiteness of the peacock and the monument in a painting with flowers around makes a stunning composition.
Text and Curation: Soma Ghosh
Research Assistance : Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh
Photography : M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali
Special thanks to Dr. A Nagender Reddy, Director , Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad.
1. http://autarmota.blogspot.com/2016/04/artist-abdur-rehman-chugtais-and-kashmir.html (accessed 05.08.2021)
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdur_Rahman_Chughtai(accessed 05.08.2021)
3. https://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090405/spectrum/main2.htm (accessed 05.08.2021)
4. Mookerjee, Ajit (1956) Modern Art in India, Calcutta: Oxford Book and Stationery Co.