ALLAH BUX (1895-1978)
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ALLAH BUX (1895-1978)

Untitled (The Moonlight Meeting)

ALLAH BUX (1895-1978)
Untitled (The Moonlight Meeting)
signed 'allah bux' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 41 in. (76.2 x 104.1 cm.)
Sotheby's London, 8 June 2000, lot 175
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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Art of Pakistan: The Modern Masters

"Modern Pakistani artists came to echo the dynamics of history and tradition, juxtaposing old and new, local and foreign, and in that way responded to the consequences brought about by colonial modernism, the process of decolonisation, and the experiences involved." (S. Wille, Modern Art in Pakistan: History, Tradition, Place, London, 2014)

Pakistan’s artistic heritage far predated its establishment as an independent nation. The 19th and 20th centuries saw seismic socio-political shifts in the South Asian subcontinent which experienced colonisation and decolonisation. In less than two centuries the country now known as Pakistan has seen patronage shift from Sikh royal families to the British Raj, terminating with independence and the modern era.
British rule was accompanied by the dissemination of Western aesthetics and artistic techniques. One of the greatest extollers of this was the Mayo School in Lahore, which would later transform into the National College of Arts. Ironically today it is the last art school in Pakistan that still teaches the traditional techniques of miniature painting. In addition to academic and oriental 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 domestic and foreign patrons.
The masters of erstwhile Pakistan such as Allah Bux and Abdur Rahman Chughtai had already established themselves as preeminent figures before the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Chughtai’s art celebrated historical and artistic Mughal traditions. Chughtai studied at the Mayo School of Arts in Lahore in 1911, where he was taught by Samanendranath Gupta, a disciple of Abanindranath Tagore and became deeply influenced by aspects of Bengal School seen particularly in his wash technique. However, during the following decade, Chughtai developed a distinct style and emerged as one of the leading practitioners across the subcontinent. His works were the result of a combination of influences such as Mughal miniature painting, Islamic calligraphy and Art Nouveau but remained grounded in the ideas of Urdu writers and poets. He also published a book titled Muraqqa’-i Chughtai (1928) that illustrated the poetry of Mirza Ghalib.
Allah Bux on the other hand was a leading proponent of the Western academic style extolled under the British Raj. Bux first sought to hone his skill as a painter in Bombay, where commercial and theatrical establishments provided him with the technical training that allowed him to return to Lahore to compete for patronage, honours and exhibitions. His work was heavily influenced by Western artistic practice and depicted rural landscapes, the romantic folklore of Punjab and subjects from Hindu mythology as seen in lot 5. This resulted in his becoming the co-founder of the Punjabi School of Painting along with English artist Anna Molka Ahmed who focused on painting the landscapes of Punjab.
"Bux explored a variety of subjects during his early years as a painter. Before Partition, he was well known for his representations of Krishna, though he also engaged in landscape and portrait painting. He was as versatile with media as with subject matter, and some of his mixtures of media were quite innovative. His painting was realistic with a romantic edge, inspired by the Indo-Western style practiced in Bombay and the European paintings in the Royal Patiala collection." (M. Sirhandi, Contemporary Painting in Pakistan, Lahore, 1992, p. 27)
It was against this backdrop of rustic idealism and romantic lyricism that Pakistani Modernism emerged. After the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, artists from the region were trying to find their individual artistic voices. These vanguard artists fostered and developed a modernism that embraced non-objective and abstracted forms which flourished in newly revived art institutions. Pivotal mentors such as Shakir Ali, the principal of the National College of Arts, disseminated the virtues of European Modern art movements having himself spent time in London, Paris and Prague.
What emerged in the 1950s and 60s was a hybridity between Western movements and the classical, Islamic literary and visual culture of Pakistan. A key development that took place during the 1960s was the calligraphic Modernist movement. Artists such as Sadequain, Ismail Gulgee and Jamil Naqsh began reworking calligraphic motifs in new ways. By choosing calligraphy and figuration as their leitmotif, these artists made a complete break with the early modernists. Anwar Jalal Shemza, Ahmed Parvez and Jamil Naqsh spent time in London while Sadequain was drawn to Paris. Here they absorbed Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Post-Impressionism and combined these with classical Islamic artistic traditions.
A self-taught artist, Ahmed Parvez was one of the early Pakistani Modernists who achieved critical acclaim internationally. He spent a decade in the United Kingdom from 1955, before returning to Pakistan, where he developed his own dynamic language of colourist abstraction, as seen in lot 9. Besides having had many solo exhibitions across galleries in London such as the New Vision Centre gallery, he was invited to exhibit his works alongside the American artist Alexander Calder at the Lincoln Gallery in 1962. Parvez was especially notable for founding the Lahore Group in Pakistan along with Shakir Ali, and the Pakistan Art Circle in London in an attempt to integrate European Modernism into Pakistani art.
Anwar Jalal Shemza trained at the Mayo School of Art in Lahore and won acclaim as an artist in Pakistan by the early 1950s, even before he followed Parvez to the United Kingdom to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1956. In London he experienced an artistic identity crisis as he was unable to reconcile his classical Islamic heritage with the modern art that confronted him. Influenced by Islamic calligraphy, sculpture and Mughal architecture he saw at the British Museum, Shemza created a very distinct geometric style. A simple aesthetic, repetition of forms and patterns and the minimal use of colour typify his works from the 1960s onwards.
One of Pakistan's most celebrated artists, Sadequain's diverse body of work spans the intimacy of calligraphy (lot 8) to abstracted figurative compositions (lot 7). Sadequain came from a family of calligraphers. Well versed in the Indo-Persian literature of Ghalib, Faiz and Iqbal along with the syncretic histories of Hellenistic Greece, Rome and Pakistan the artist often included mythology and poetry in his paintings. His public works adorn many of Pakistan's premier institutions and historic buildings such as Frere Hall in Karachi, the State Bank of Pakistan, Karachi, and the Lahore Museum.
Many waves of destructive forces swept through the South Asian subcontinent in the 20th century. In their wake, they left a vibrant tapestry of creativity and artistry, which was enriched by the struggle and unsparingly modern in its visual language.

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