Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1897–1975) was a painter 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’, and the national artist of Pakistan. He was given the title of Khan Bahadur in 1934, awarded Pakistan’s Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 1960, and the Presidential medal for Pride of Performance in 1968.
Chughtai’s year of birth is given variously as 1894, 1897 and 1899, but the official family website has it as 21 September 1897. 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. After completing his education at the Railway Technical School, Lahore, in 1911, Chughtai joined the Mayo School of Art, 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.
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. 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.
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. He published three books of his own work: the Muraqqai-i-Chughtai (1928), Naqsh-i-Chughtai (c. 1935) and Chughtai’s Paintings (1940). 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 and in its time, was considered the finest achievement in book production in the country. 
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. Chughtai married twice, and had two children, a son and daughter. He died in Lahore on 17 January 1975.
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. 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.
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 through the years since its inception but remains fundamentally the same. 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.
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, 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.. Many of his works are at the Chughtai Museum Trust in Lahore.
- 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.
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. He was also known for his designs of postage stamps. United Nations Organization art correspondent Jacob-Baal Teshuva wrote that Chughtai’s paintings are the most set released in 1948.