Rama in Seeta Swayamwar
By Abdur Rahman Chughtai (Born 1894; died 1975)
Abdur Rahman Chughtai is remembered today as possibly the most distinguished Pakistani artist of the 20th century. His work draws from a shared South Asian cultural heritage, and he was one of the few Pakistani artists to be recognized in India before and after the 1947 partition.
Chughtai began his training at the Mayo School of Art in Lahore in 1911, where he was taught by Samarendranath Gupta, himself a pupil of Abanindranath Tagore. The influence of the Bengal School is visible in Chughtai's early work, but what distinguishes Chughtai is his exceptional skill as a draughtsman. Many of his paintings were large-format—exuberant, expansive works rendered in soft, meditative colors and bold, flowing lines. Even his smaller paintings and drawings seem somehow to contain the same freeness.
Chughtai’s work typically portrayed Hindu deities and famous personalities from Islamic and Hindu dynasties—Mughal and Rajuput princes. He depicted gods and courtesans with equal affection. In the mid-1940s, he became obsessed with the idea that he was directly descended from Ahmed Mimar Lahori, the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan's chief architect, believed to be the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal. As specific as the traditions are from which he drew his subject matter, his appeal has proven truly international. As Principal S. Kashmira Singh writes in the introduction to one of his monographs, “For his characteristic style, perfect technique and universal appeal he has been described as the artist of all Nations.”
Image and text credit: Christies