Untitled (Girl with Instrument), watercolour on paper, framed, 59.7 x 30.7cm (23 1/2 x 12 1/16in).
Provenance: Private Collection of Sheikh Asad Rahman; gifted to his father, the late Justice S.A. Rahman, by the artist. Justice Rahman was the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 1968, founding President of the Pakistan Arts Council, and a renowned Urdu Poet.
Chughtai believed that it was the duty of the artist to rise above prejudice in the creation of an art that celebrates inclusive and universal tradition. According to him, only by recognising this universal tradition can one develop an innate artistic identity. As such the artist chose to paint Mughal, Iranian, Hindu, Punjabi, Kashmiri and Brahman subjects and later expanded to incorporate a 'pan-Persianism'. The tendency to group him together with the Bengal school of painters was contested by the artist, who stated that contrary to Bengal art, which "favoured gods and goddesses and was full of pessimism and gloom, ... his art was radically different because it inculcated hope and faith in life" (Akbar Naqvi, Image and Identity: Fifty years of Painting and Sculpture in Pakistan, Karachi, 1998, p 51 and 54.)
The work in question is an example of Chughtai's early watercolours characterised by a focus on line rather than colour. The ascendency of the arabesque, which came to influence the European Art Nouveau is evident in the intricate rendering of the ornamental fabric. As is characteristic of his early figures, the woman here is depicted in a state of blissful reverie, unaware of might be occurring in her vicinity. While holding a stringed instrument, she is dressed in a costume whose components do not subscribe to a single culture or period, but is perhaps an imagined amalgamation of diverse oriental traditions.