Abdur Rahman Chughtai (Pakistan, 1897-1975) Maiden contemplating moths at a flame
watercolour on card, signed lower right, framed 47.5 x 60 cm.
Provenance: Private collection: purchased directly from the artist by the present owner circa 1964-65. For other examples from the same collection, see Sotheby's, Contemporary Indian and South Asian Paintings, London, 17th June 1998, lot 1 and following.
The motif of the maiden contemplating the flame of a lamp is one found on several occasions in Chughtai's work, especially in the first thirty years of his career, and derives from ghazal poetry. We can read the image literally: the maiden sits alone in her chamber, perhaps waiting for her beloved, or stares into the flame and thinks of him, as in a couplet of Ghalib which Chughtai used to accompany a similar work ('she was waiting alone all the night; only the lamp kept her company and now the lamp has gone out'). But in poetry, the flame is also a metaphor for the beloved, the moths for the lover who is hopelessly drawn towards the object of his desire. For discussion of this subject, see M. Sirhandi, Contemporary Painting in Pakistan, Lahore 1992, pp. 26-27; and her PhD thesis, Abdur Rahman Chughtai: a Modern South Asian Artist, Ohio State University, 1984, pp. 170-72.