As a nation, Pakistan is far younger than its art, even in terms of its modernists. The melting pot of creativity that emerged in the region during the early and mid-20th century was the product of the eclectic conditions artists found themselves in the preceding years. When the British Raj replaced the Sikh rulers of Punjab in 1850, the tradition of royal patronage was severed and painters were forced to seek alternative sources of income. With British rule also came the unavoidable dissemination of Western aesthetics and techniques. One of the greatest extollers of Western aesthetics was the anglicizing Mayo School, which would later transform into the National College of Arts - ironically today it is the last art school that still teaches the traditional techniques of miniature painting. Apart from academic and orientalizing realism, new hybrid styles such as Company School painting emerged, influenced by the tastes of British patrons. Art production and consumption in the 19th century was split between works being produced for a foreign audience and in the bazaars for the native patrons of Pakistan.
Allah Bux and his contemporaries sought experience elsewhere such as Bombay, where commercial and theatrical establishments provided the skills and training artists craved, before returning to Lahore to compete fervently for patronage, awards and exhibitions. It is against this backdrop that Pakistani modernism emerged. By 1920, the influence of the Bengal School stretched from its heartland of Calcutta all the way to Lahore. Disciples of Abanindranath Tagore such as Samanendranath Gupta became teachers at the Mayo School shortly before Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1913 and 1916 respectively). Chughtai, who also studied at the Mayo School, was in fact taught by Gupta and deeply influenced by aspects of the Bengal School, seen particularly in his wash technique. However, during the following decade, Chughtai developed a distinct style that would rival the Bengal School and emerged as one of the most significant painters in Lahore. The most accomplished draftsman of the period, Chughtai even ran his own printing press from the late 1920s. By the 1940s, Chughtai was recognized as one of the leading practitioners across the subcontinent with particular patronage in Hyderabad.
Artists like Allah Bux followed a less eclectic path, harnessing an academic orientalizing Western Style absorbed during his time in Bombay and expounding this with unparalleled virtuosic ability. Lot 724 emphasizes Bux’s ability to create a lyrical romanticism that made his works instantly accessible to native and foreign patrons alike. Bux’s following was such that by 1976 he inaugurated the Allah Bux Academy.
Sadequain, one of the preeminent Pakistani artists of the 20th century, represented a complete break with the early modernists. His visual representations of Urdu poetry, particularly by Iqbal and Ghalib used calligraphy itself as art, and in doing so evoked an essence of Islam as well as a sense of patriotism. Throughout his career the artist undertook several large scale public works, most notably the murals in the Lahore Museum.
Pakistani painters Jalal Shemza and Ahmend Parvez also represent this new generation of modernist pioneers. Shemza graduated from the Mayo School of Art in Lahore in 1947, the same year the Indian Subcontinent was divided under Partition. Shemza’s modernist engagement already manifested itself in the early 50s when he founded the Lahore Art Circle, a group which included Parvez and that championed abstraction of forms in painting. These instincts would travel with the artist to London remaining with him throughout his career. Both Parvez and Shemza arrived in London in 1955-6, where Shemza developed his calligraphic abstraction in the mid-1960s. His disciplined use of modular shapes and lines construct architectonic totems, his own formal building blocks fusing calligraphy and geometry adhere to a strict visual code. Parvez also initially embraced abstract geometries, working as part of the New Vision Group, a collective of like-minded artists, later returning to allusive figuration. In this way, Shemza and Parvez created styles that were for the first time transnational but inextricably tied to Lahore.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF AMBASSADOR JAMSHEED AND BEGUM ARNAZ MARKER]]>