The Works of Ustad Bashiruddin: A Restrained Grace
The Works of Ustad Bashiruddin: A Restrained Grace

While researching and investigating art historical discourse pertaining to South Asia, one comes across the names of many painters, some whose names sound more familiar than others. Essays, paintings, reviews, oral testimonies of students, friends and colleagues, archival evidence has helped cement their place in the art historical canon. It is no surprise then that the availability of this rich corpus of material has meant that the artistic practice of these notable painters has continued to inspire subsequent generations that have followed. For a variety of reasons, there still remain many distinguished practitioners who were equally prolific but are somehow lesser known despite having left their footprints all over this history.

If lack of physical and archival evidence is the hurdle, then all the more reason to delve into these lost annals of history where each testimony, sketch and painting must be regarded as having even more value. Each piece of documentary evidence transforms into a mnemonic device that can help a researcher infer, recover, retrieve and reclaim: it becomes a manifestation of the artist’s unique qualities while the historical milieu in which the cultural production took place helps to situate it within the genealogy of the art historical canon. Attempting to revisit such an artist’s oeuvre though, as in this case, presents a new set of challenges as well as opportunities; one can invite debate whilst positing his/her relevance in relation to cultural and artistic production today.

It is my hope that a review of the existing information and some personal accounts, can help initiate such an investigation into the life and works of one such artist from the Lahore School of Painting, namely Ustad Bashiruddin. To date, Syed Amjad Ali and Munira Alam’s 1998 publication “Ustad Bashir ud Din: The Last Master from Lahore School of Painters (Great Masters Series)” remains a valuable resource showcasing providing a meticulously researched historical background and context in which Ustad Bashiruddin emerged as an artist, designer and educator at the Mayo School of Art. The works included in the publication (some of which will be discussed here) were exhibited at the Lahore Art Gallery in 1992 as part of a Solo exhibition on Ustad Bashiruddin. They were also exhibited in 1996 in a two-person Show titled  “Two Generations: Ustad Bashiruddin and Amin Rehman” which was held at the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery, NCA Lahore. In the Preface to the book Salima Hashmi mentions that there is” little documentation of the painting being done in Lahore at the turn of the century upto 1947.”1 An understanding and evolution of  Ustad Bashiruddin’s practice may help provide a valuable opening though which we can also begin to access and  “understand a little known era”.2 While this is certainly true there are also limitations given that the works are not dated so an analysis in term of precise chronological development is not possible. Instead, this essay focuses on some overarching characteristics, qualities and artistic contributions made by Ustad Bashiruddin. Ustad Bashiruddin’s son, Amin Rehman has been kind enough to point out his father’s early and mature styles.

Fig.1 Ustad Bashiruddin, 1975, NCA, Lahore. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman. Photograph: Mian Majeed.

Ustad Bashiruddin was born on 11th July, 1922, at Qasur. He was the youngest of five brothers and five sisters. His father Mian Fazal Din worked for the railways and after his retirement the family moved to Lahore where he received elementary education till he was aged fourteen. He joined the Mayo School of Art in 1936 and according to archival documents obtained from the NCA Archives3, completed his first Diploma in Commercial Painting in 1940. This was followed by the completion of another Diploma in Fine Art in the year 1944, a Diploma in Design in 1946 and lastly, a Diploma in Miniature Painting in 1948. Even as a student, Ustad Bashiruddin demonstrated a talent for both the fine arts and applied arts at the time. He graduated with a First Division in both Fine Arts and Miniature Painting (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3) while securing a silver medal in Design. (Fig. 4)

In 1953 Ustad Bashiruddin was appointed to the post of Drawing Master at Mayo School of Art. He continued to work at that post till 1958 when Mayo School was upgraded to the status of a Federal institution which came to be known as National College of Arts, Lahore. In consequence of this change, he was appointed as Instructor in 1959.

In order to locate Ustad Bashiruddin’s presence and contribution in the genealogy of Lahore’s art scene it is important to talk about the tumultuous decades before, that had galvanized and fueled the birth of an artistic and literary Renaissance in Lahore4; artists practicing in this time may have possibly influenced Ustad Bashiruddin’s early years. Two stalwarts emerged from the city of Lahore in these decades, and one can detect glimmers of their influence on Ustad Bashiruddin’s style and content. It is worth mentioning that both of his predecessors, Ustad Allah Bux and Abdur Rahman Chughtai had borne witness to some landmark events in the history, politics and cultural evolution of the region. Their era was defined by the emergence of Indian nationalism, the birth of The Bengal School style introduced by Abanindranath Tagore which was inspired by both Mughal miniatures, Rajput miniatures and Japanese painting. Typified by hazy backgrounds, water-colour washes and content that celebrated the mythical ancient past of India, the Bengal School emerged as a response to Gandhi’s call for swaraj and a desire for what Partha Mitter, as quoted from Sirhindi’s thesis describes as “a truly indigenous culture stripped of its western moorings.” 5

By the early 1900s the Bengal School had spread across India. Tagore’s students carried the style with them wherever they went, his students went on to become instructors and Principals in various art institutions at the time. Although S. N. Gupta, a student of Abanindranath Tagore was the Vice Principal of Mayo School of Art at the time and Chughtai had joined the teaching staff in 1913, he categorically rejected having drawn any inspiration from the style.6 In her PhD dissertation on Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Marcella Nesom Bedford Sirhindi partially refutes this claim stating that his early style did infact resemble the Bengal School style before it evolved and broke new ground. Chughtai began to diverge conceptually, he had begun experimenting by tapping into the rich corpus of Indo-Persian literature and art, content that ultimately engendered the emergence of his version of a national style. 7

By the 1920s and 30s the art scene of Lahore was dominated by a group of likeminded painters spearheaded by Chughtai. These artists included Chughtai’s brother A.R. Asghar, Inayat Ullah, Muhammad Hussain Qadri and Abdul Rehman Ejaz. 8 Meanwhile Ustad Allah Bux, Samanendranath Gupta and Roop Krishna also maintained their presence.

Ustad Allah Bux, unlike Chughtai had no professional training and taught himself to paint in oil. He was apprenticed to a sign painter and went on to paint stage scenery for popular Urdu theatre. He did not shy away from painting  mythological  figures in  the grand historical tradition of classical European painting and is most celebrated for his genre scenes in oil which feature a romanticized version of rural life, rural folklore, culture and most importantly “the proud image of a Punjabi girl, “Jatti Punjabi Di”.9

Since Indian landscape painting is an extension of British classical painting it is worth mentioning that it was a little after the mid-18th century that European landscape painting had made its foray into India with the arrival of British painters in search of fame and fortune. Their works demonstrated a fascination with nature and the exotic land that they had arrived to document in a grand, historical style.10 Ustad Allah Bux reclaimed this genre and replaced this “high art” with idealized representations of rural life from Punjab. The evolution, style and content of both Chughtai and Ustad Allah Bux was vastly different; they represented two divergent paths, the metropolitan vis a vis the rural, but both were eventually co-opted by the State to construct the artistic rubric of what would inform the national identity of a new nation. While Chughtai drew inspiration from the sophisticated culture and tradition of the intellectual elite, Ustad Allah Bux in contrast drew inspiration from his soil and land. He went on to become the co-founder of the Punjab School of Painting. 11

How had these stalwarts, in the prime of their artistic careers, already begun transforming and inspiring the next crop of artists who would also be witness to the tumult and chaos of Partition? Can Ustad Bashuruddin’s subsequent artistic production be considered as being part of that intermediary generation of artists who, in gratuitous acknowledgment of and identification with these histories and newly fashioned modern visual vocabularies, courtesy Chughtai and Allah Bux, expanded upon their discoveries and evolved their own practice?

In locating and identifying such influences it is also worth mentioning that Ustad Bashiruddin’s teachers at Mayo School of Art may have also played an instrumental role in encouraging his talent. Amin Rehman, Ustad Bashiruddin’s son narrates that Haji Mohammad Sharif taught him miniature painting while Ustad Muhammad Latif Chughtai was his drawing master. Rehman recalls that “at times he praised the works of other master’s work such as SN Gupta, Ustad Mohammad Akmal, Master Muhammad Yousaf and Master Khadim Hussain, but I am unsure if they taught him. “12

Ustad Muhammad Latif Chughtai and Ustad Bashiruddin went on to maintain a friendship which lasted over forty years. They became and remained colleagues from 1952 to 1982, both teaching as part of the faculty of the Fine Arts Department at Mayo School/NCA. Since they lived walking distance from each other both teachers would often discuss issues related to art, art making, social and political matters. 13

Fig. 5 Portion of Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook showing studies of female figures.
Fig. 6 A sketch by Ustad Latif Chughtai depicting a female figure.
Fig. 7 A sketch of two women in traditional dress by Ustad Bashiruddin.n.d.
Fig. 8 Sohni by Ustad Muhammad Latif Chughtai, watercolour. n.d.

Ustad Bashiruddin certainly explored the delicacy and subtleties of line much like his drawing master (Fig. 6) in his sketches. He may have also imbibed how his Ustaad had realized the potential of using exaggeration and stylization to understand the beauty of the human form.

For instance what is noteworthy in these particular sketches (Fig 5.) by Ustad Bashiruddin is  his struggle to practice and attain that effortless grace which was characteristic of his Ustad’s drawings even though the subject matter is different.   Eventually in one of the figures the hands are deliberately elongated (a characteristic that appears in many of Ustad Bashiruddin’s works) and the lower half of the body is extended in relation to the pinched waist. Perhaps it is to emphasize the posture whilst retaining that languid demeanor and sophisticated grace in the female figure’s character that was so typical of many such iterations made at this time? The contrapposto pose in the drawings of both artists, a trope of western Academic Realism/drawing (Fig. 5 and Fig. 6), where one foot is extended outwards helps to emphasize this illusion. Ustaad Bashiruddin repeats the sketch perhaps also to experiment with the possibilities of exaggeration: how much stylization can help arrive at the perfect, harmonious composition? Ustad Bashiruddin’s second sketch (Fig. 7) is much more resolved, detailed and almost lovingly brought to life through a finesse of line and the study of tonal variation. Two women dressed in regional dress and adorned in the most exquisitely detailed jewellery gaze demurely into the distance from under their eyes. The figure in the foreground wears a long shirt with a laacha, a style of a skirt widely worn in rural Punjab while the figure in the background is dressed in a long shirt with a voluminous shalwar. Both wear a variation of traditional shoes called khussas in a style that is more common among women in Punjab. Ustad Bashiruddin is therefore adept at depicting and studying costumes worn historically by an elite that traces its lineage to Indo Persian cultural influence as well as celebrating rural, regional dress. Their pose almost mirrors Ustad Latif’s female figure who is dressed in a choli (short blouse that ends below the bust) and lehnga (long frock) (Fig. 6). Much like his Ustad, it is the startling contrast in line that reveals subtleties: the adornments and not proportions are meant to overshadow the composition since he appears to have successfully resolved the problem of balancing the proportions.

Beyond this though the content of Ustad and Shagird (student) differs. The delicate works of Ustad Latif indicate an interest in using the finesse of line to study the voluptuous form and contours of the female body; stylistically he may have been inspired by ancient Indian art, frescoes of Ajanta Ellora but his paintings also push boundaries in terms of genre; the women in his paintings have the faces of Chughtai’s fine female forms. They could be apsaras (nymphs),  or Yakshis14 (female spirits that inhabited trees, mountains, rocks etc.) but they are placed in a rural setting as indicated by the name “Sohni” in Ustad Muhammad Latif Chughtai’s dreamlike vision in watercolour (Fig. 8). The idiom of the idealized body in the idyllic, fantastical rural is Ustad Latif’s canvas. Ustad Bashirddin’s figures, despite their traditional dress and even rural settings/props in certain compositions, embody a more restrained demeanor with an urbane elegance that typifies some of Chughtai’s figurative compositions with their lamps, books, marble jaalis and Mughal arches.15

Ergo Ustad Bashiruddin, in line with the ethos of his time, borrowed piecemeal from his idols and teachers in order to experiment, understand, practice and perfect his skill. The subtle romanticism and resonance with the past and a determination to reinvent it in the present emerges as a consistent feature in the works of Ustad Latif, Ustad Allah Bux and Chughtai. It is not surprising that like his seniors and predecessors, the paintings of Ustad Bashiruddin also yearned to salvage, search and celebrate culture. But what would be the credo and crux of his endeavour? Religion, literature, myth, history, soil or nationalism? Command over line or poetic visions? Perhaps this was the conundrum that was presented to artists of the generation like Ustad Bashiruddin who succeeded masters like Ustad Allah Bux, Ustad Latif and Chughtai: what dominant consciousness would continue to drive the spark that had been lit by these stalwarts?

Despite the vast difference in socio-political context, while contemplating this discourse and perusing through the works of all these South Asian artists one is struck by how the inclination for exaggeration and  quest for the attainment of personal style in this intermediary period could arguably be equated with the dilemma presented to Mannerists in the mid-1500s. The Mannerists too were working during a time of great political and religious uncertainty, perhaps they may have even developed personal styles in response to their surroundings and it was manifested in the form of a renegade visual defiance which sought expression through “altering nature and changing forms and colour to satisfy their subjective criteria.” They were searching for an expression that could build on the works of Renaissance masters and also simultaneously unveil the perfect essence whilst remaining true to tradition. 16 For instance Chughtai found his forte through an exaggeration of form and line rooted in the aesthetics of miniature painting. Ustad Allah Bux turned the nexus between British landscape painting and high art on its head  by replacing it with a pan-Indian identity that equally embraced a regionalism rooted in folktales. Some works vacillated between a theatricality borne of literary awareness but also a realism that was rooted in an Academic style.

Ustad Bashiruddin’s subjectivities also varied as he searched for a distinct style.  His allegiance to celebrating indigenous tradition and culture was present in its nascent phase even when he sat for a drawing test in order to qualify for the post of Lecturer at Mayo School in 1953. The given topic of his entry test was “A Bride preparing for the formal rite of tying the bridegroom’s headdress while some children look on”.  (Fig. 9)

Fig. 9 Ustad Bashiruddin’s drawing test entry for a post in the Fine Arts Department at Mayo School, 1953.

The sketch illustrates Bashiruddin’s virtuosity in adapting modern content to the tenets and aesthetics of traditional miniature painting. It also demonstrates Ustad Bashiruddin’s determination to exceed expectations even in a timed entry test as the observation of detail is immaculate, down to the traditional chair with scalloped patterns, looping and hanging strings of marigold and the bride surrounded by her friends all of whom are dressed in variations of traditional dress. There is an interest in studying the details of ornaments but not to decorate but to accentuate and balance the composition.

The elaborate nature of this tableau-like depiction is reminiscent of Ustad Allah Bux and his predilection for grand theatrical scenes composed of throngs and groups in traditional rural dress, artfully arranged to narrate an episode or event.

The manner in which Ustad Bashiruddin composes an elaborate Mise-en-scène complete with all its props not only exhibits his ability to draw inspiration from direct experience but to effortlessly morph it into the vocabulary of specific schools within miniature painting. Even his sketchbooks (Fig. 10) indicate an interest in practicing, copying and attempting to understand compositions and tropes that are unique in traditional painting. In this page from Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbooks one finds the use of a frame which is specific only to certain compositions in Pahari school miniature paintings (Fig. 11). This interest in subscribing to tradition is also particularly evident in the way the fabric and folds are stylized in the central figure of the bride as well as in the female figure next to her. These stylistic tropes are also a hallmark of Pahari school and Rajasthani painting. The carpet and footstool also do not conform to established rules of perspective defined by Western art; they reside in the realm of the ideal where the intention is to emphasize ornament and detail. Side poses synonymous with portraits in miniature painting are complimented by three fourth and frontal poses. Ustad Bashiruddin makes it a point to naturalize a depiction that engages with us because it constantly flits between the real and idyllic.  Perhaps Ustad Bashiruddin had also made a conscious effort to exhibit the skills attained under his teacher Ustad Haji Sharif because he was sitting in an exam. Or perhaps the subject matter appealed to Ustad Bashiruddin’s temperament. Whatever the reason, his drawing is a testament to his passion and an early indicator of certain characteristics that became part of his style.

Fig. 10 A cropped portion of Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook showing a frame typical of some Pahari School paintings. n.d.
Fig. 11 The Village Beauty, Punjab Hills: Kangra, 1780, Ink opaque watercolour and gold on paper. (19 x 13 cm)

A hallmark of Ustad Bashiruddin’s mature style in painting is his ability to balance compositions that consist of groups or clusters of figures. Perhaps that is why his Mayo School composition succeeds, there is no need for colour or tonal variation since the composition has been harmoniously balanced.

Conversations in which I was present with Ustad Bashiruddin’s student, Saeed Akhtar a famous painter in his own right and eminent painter and scholar Dr. Aijaz Anwar validate this claim: Ustad Bashiruddin was a master in his subtle handling of elaborate compositions which consisted of groups of figures. 17 In one of the paintings from his mature period (Fig. 11) four figures in what would have otherwise been a static composition, are animated through the subtle tilt of the angles of their head or body. Both women in the foreground hold a water container, one on her head while the other holds it in her hand. The tenor of the painting calls for a more sensitive interpretation; the title says “Walking Home” and so it captures the essence of their body movements. We cannot see it but imagine them as their hips sway to and fro; they move in a rhythmic balance that captures the essence of their gait as a group but their eyes gaze in varying directions. Overlapping, emerging, partially hidden it is a playful composition steeped in a modest grace. Even the loose, curling tendrils of hair, thick and full cascading downwards, another characteristic of Ustad Bashiruddin’s style, seem to be balanced by the splayed and bare branches of the trees in the background. The youth and  vigour of the women outshines even the passage of time.

Fig. 12 Walking Home- II by Ustad Bashiruddin, n.d., watercolour.

Ustad Bashiruddin worked in watercolour and excelled at neem rung; his autumnal pallete was  a defining characteristic in many of his paintings. Neem rung is a technique and style in miniature painting whereby translucent layers of sepia washes are gradually applied and built up in layers to attain variation in tone.  For coloured tones and hues, a hint of coloured pigment is added to sepia. Compositions such as the one shown in (Fig. 12)   are a masterclass in the study of tone and contrast. Although steeped in a quiet, almost otherworldly setting, it is the balance of dark and light that enlivens the ambience. Quiet pastel hues harmoniously balance assertive blocks of maroon and brown that are visible on the blouse and in the colour of their hair.

Ustad Bashiruddin’s experiments in genre are also interesting; whether it is a rural setting in the outdoors or an interior setting featuring a fine, erudite female clad in regal finery, there is a sustained interest in presenting graceful movement accompanied by poetic metaphors whilst aesthetically drawing from the past. The famous 17th century French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix wrote in one of his diary entries that “cold accuracy is not art. Skillful invention, when it is pleasing or expressive, is art itself.”18 Many of Ustad Bashiruddin’s paintings seem to be drawing inspiration from Chughtai  but they are also an exercise in attempting to extract a skillful invention. Ustad Bashiruddin borrows from a classic compositional trope often also found in Pahari School Painting, that of the woman with a peacock. The painting from the Guler School (Fig.13) “shows a lady in a white-skirted jama over shalwar. Her left hand is raised to her head, and in her right she holds a string of pearls with which she tempts a tail-less peacock. This light composition was popular with Pahari artists.”[/efn_note]Aijazuddin, F. S., Pahari Paintings and Sikh Portraits in the Lahore Museum, p 28. 20 is not about the engulfing power of pathos entrenched in Chughtai’s works but the grace, uncertainty and timidness of desire. The decision to alter his figures is not merely based on whim or fancy but laced with intention that is buttressed by conceptual concerns.

Fig. 14 Lady with flowers by Ustad Bashiruddin, n.d. opaque watercolour
Fig. 13 Lady tempting a peacock, Guler, 1780, 165 x95 mm; with border 218 x152 mm.

The second composition (Fig. 15) shows a more assertive depiction of a rural woman in a ghaghra (frock) quietly gliding across the landscape with a flower in hand as a peacock accompanies her. In this composition the physiognomy of his female figure aligns with her setting: tall, broad and buxom she carries herself differently as does her stately black peacock. Ustad Bashiruddin’s propensity for borrowing from the history of Indian miniature painting is always offset by a motif that he adds which catapults it from mimicry or inspiration to innovation. He borrows from his teacher Ustad Haji Sharif with his spare, neutral gouache backgrounds and strong contrasts but Ustad Bashiruddin opts for an even more unusually deep colour palette that adds weight to the composition. His uses of strong shadows grounds the figure in the real world and cements her identity. The exaggerated length of arms, elongated claw-like hands are an attempt to explore the possibilities of stylization and often emerge as a characteristic of his style in many works.

Fig. 15 Lady with Peacock by Ustad Bashiruddin, watercolour n.d.

Ustad Bashiruddin also worked for the textile industry. Many of his designs were sought after and it is said that he was prolific. Unfortunately, no samples of the textiles themselves survive. 21 However many of his paintings and drawings should serve as an inspiration for designers; they draw freely from Persianate borders, manuscripts, palmettes and architectural motifs. His sketchbooks (Fig. 17) depict his struggle as he grapples to understand the form and stylization inherent in the complex patterns. Some figurative paintings such as the figure in profile shown in (Fig. 16) seem to actually be an exercise in exhibiting his prowess and dexterity in working with differentiating fabric and depicting jewellery as a motif. The painting appears to be spare but the embroidered linings of the neckline and dupatta with its scalloped edges are a study in meticulous observation of design. Despite these observations there is restraint; it is only the heavy, patterned jewels that are allowed to stand out in contrast with the delicate nose, hooded eyes and pert mouth of the lady. Historically, there have been countless miniature paintings both in Mughal and Pahari/Rajput Schools that exhibit the glamour and accumulated wealth of the elite through a meticulous reproduction and stylization of their jewellery. This particular trope of pose-in-profile has been used quite often. Arguably though, Ustad Bashiruddin’s depictions are a distinct and stylized exploration of forms that in some cases seem to be solely his own invention rather than a documentation of reality.

Fig. 16 Portrait of Lady by Ustad Bashiruddin, watercolour.n.d.
Fig. 17 A page from the sketchbook of Ustad Bashiruddin showcasing studies of motifs and patterns. n.d
Fig. 18 A page from Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook. n.d.
Fig. 19 A page from Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook showing a drawing of a woman and child.n.d.

Many of Ustad Bashiruddin’s finished paintings showcase his experiments in stylization and exaggeration. Yet some of his sketchbooks (Fig. 18) reveal the painstaking process of struggling to understand real human anatomy before delving into this vocabulary. The various hastily scribbled sketches of feet, profiles, busts and their various permutations appear to be a rigorous exercise aimed at perfecting a naturalism in line and proportion.  Delacroix is wary of criticism directed at artists who are accused of repetition. He was writing in appreciation of Peter Paul Rubens when he wrote these lines but they are equally applicable to Ustad Bashiruddin’s conscientious devotion to practicing his style and drawing.

“…a profound thinker who has delved deeply into the secrets of art is not disturbed by such “monotony”, for a continual return to the same forms shows the imprint of a great master, it is also the instinctive action of a wise and practiced hand.”22

That wisdom is reflected in this realistic drawing extracted from a page of his sketchbook (Fig. 19). It shows a woman braiding a young girl’s hair. It is a solitary setting. The rough doodling on the edges becomes inconsequential as one enters the scene. It is an intimate setting that is treated with the awareness of a careful understanding of difference in body types and age. The older woman, though swathed in a chaddar, is modest in dress and absorbed in her task.  The girl is skinny, delicately boned, her posture and shoulders capturing her reluctance and resignation at being asked to sit still. Even as voyeurs we can enjoy the quiet light as it falls on the folds of the fabric and illuminates a portion of the little girl’s frontal body.  What animates this scene and roots it in a cultural context is the older woman’s foot perched on and pushing into the back of a chair which emphasizes her concentration and dedication to the task at hand; it is a common scene often found in the Subcontinent when older women braid or oil children’s hair. This is hardly a posture one would expect to find in the middle class observations of Vermeer’s compositions or in Rembrandt’s flawless studies of models! Perhaps it is because it is derived from a consciousness rooted not just in grand historical narratives but in an equal  appreciation of  a living culture with all its idiosyncrasies.

Ustad Bashiruddin’s observation of such innocent and unassuming scenes that go unnoticed in our everyday lives tell us that there was much more to this artist than is visible in his idyllic, sepia tinted visions and genre paintings. Ustad Bashiruddin taught at Mayo School of Art/NCA for 30 years. He passed away in 1997. His contribution as a teacher and instructor has yet to be explored and unpacked.

The most prominent amongst his class fellows were Satish Gujral and Niaz Ali Shah Bukhari.  His early students from Mayo School of Art included Qadir Khan (1958) and Mehmood Hasan Rumi (1953).

After the formation of NCA his most notable students went on to becomes fine painters, sculptors, designers, printmakers and ceramists. The most notable include Zahoor ul Akhlaq (1962), Mohammad Javed (1962), Javed Najam (1962), Ahmed Khan (1962), Salahuddin Mian (1962), Nayyer Ali Dada (1963), Bashir Mirza (1962), Iqbal Hassan (1963), Naeem Pasha, Saeed Akhtar (1964), Tanvir Masood Khan (1964), Salima Hashmi (1965), Mohammad Asaf Mirza (1965) Adil Salah ud din (1966), Yasmeen Cheema (1966), Mohammad Assif (1966), Masood Ahmed Khan (1966), Shireen Pasha (1970), Sheherezade Alam (1971) Zafar Ullah (1971) Farooq Qaiser (1971), Bashir Ahmed (1974), Iqbal Hussain (1974), Nazir Ahmed (1976), Sajjad Kausar (1977), Dr. Shabnam Syed Khan and Nazish atta Ullah (1983).

2022 marked the centenary year of Ustad Bashiruddin’s birth. He was born on 11th July 1922.


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Dadi, I. (2006). Miniature Painting as Muslim Cosmopolitanism. ISIM, 18.

Gautam, Shriya. (2020) The Ashta Nayikas: A Quantitative Approach to the Miniature Paintings of the Nayikas, IGNCA Journal of Arts, 5(1),  p 123.

Naqvi, Akbar. Image & Identity. Oxford University Press, USA, 2010.

Nesom, Marcella Oxford (1984). Abdur Rahman Chughtai: A Modern South Asian Artist

[ Doctoral Dissertation, The Ohio State University]. UMI Dissertation Services.

Wellington, H. (2010). In L. Norton (Ed.), The Journal of Eugene Delacroix (3rd ed., p. 134). essay, Phaidon.

Zupnick, I. L. (1953). The “Aesthetics” of the Early Mannerists. The Art Bulletin, 35(4), 302.

Image References

Fig.1 Ustad Bashiruddin, 1975, NCA, Lahore. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman. Photograph: Mian Majeed.

Fig.2 “Certificate issued by Mayo School of Art showing completion of Diploma in Fine Art by Ustad Bashiruddin, 1944”, NCAA Sr. No. 2 , Head # 35 P/f, 158. 1944. Available at the National College of Arts, Lahore Archives.

Fig.3 “Certificate issued by Mayo School of Art showing completion of Diploma in Miniature Painting by Ustad Bashiruddin, 1948”, NCAA Sr. No. 2, Head # 35 P/f, 156. 1948. Available at the National College of Arts, Lahore Archives.

Fig.4 “Certificate issued by Mayo School of Art showing completion of Diploma and attainment of Silver Medal in Design by Ustad Bashiruddin, 1945.” NCAA Sr. No. 2, Head # 35 P/f, 195. 1945. Available at the National College of Arts, Lahore Archives.

Fig.5 Portion of Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook showing studies of female figures. n.d. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman.

Fig.6 A sketch by Ustad Latif Chughtai depicting a female figure. Centenary Exhibition, National College of Arts Lahore 1875-1975, p 19. Catalogue Courtesy of Amin Rehman.

Fig.7 A sketch of two women in traditional dress by Ustad Bashiruddin. n.d. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman.

Fig.8 Sohni by Ustad Muhammad Latif Chughtai, watercolour, n.d. From Ustad Bashir Ud Din: The Last Master from Lahore School of Painters (Great Masters Series) . 1st ed. Lahore: Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd, 1998. p15.

Fig.9 Ustad Bashiruddin’s drawing test entry for a post in the Fine Arts Department at Mayo School, 1953. NCAA  Sr. No. 2 , File No. 35 P, No 142. 1944. Available at the National College of Arts, Lahore Archives.

Fig.10 A cropped portion of Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook showing a frame typical of some Pahari School paintings. n.d. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman.

Fig.11 The Village Beauty, Punjab Hills: Kangra, 1780, Ink opaque watercolour and gold on paper. (19 x 13 cm), From Cossack, Steve, Indian Court Painting 16th-19th century, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. p 106.

Fig.12 Walking Home- II by Ustad Bashiruddin, n.d., watercolour. From Ustad Bashir Ud Din: The Last Master from Lahore School of Painters (Great Masters Series) . 1st ed. Lahore: Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd, 1998, p 28.

Fig.13 Lady tempting a peacock, Guler, 1780, 165 x95 mm; with border 218 x152 mm. Folder of Pahari School paintings printed by The Lahore Museum.

Fig.14 Lady with flowers by Ustad Bashiruddin, n.d. opaque watercolour. From Ustad Bashir Ud Din: The Last Master from Lahore School of Painters (Great Masters Series) . 1st ed. Lahore: Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd, 1998. p14.

Fig.15 Lady with Peacock by Ustad Bashiruddin, watercolour n.d. From Ustad Bashir Ud Din: The Last Master from Lahore School of Painters (Great Masters Series) . 1st ed. Lahore: Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd, 1998, p13.

Fig.16 Portrait of Lady by Ustad Bashiruddin, watercolour.n.d. From Ustad Bashir Ud Din: The Last Master from Lahore School of Painters (Great Masters Series) . 1st ed. Lahore: Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd, 1998, p17.

Fig.17 A page from the sketchbook of Ustad Bashiruddin showcasing studies of motifs and patterns. n.d. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman.

Fig.18 A page from Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook. n.d. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman.

Fig.19 A page from Ustad Bashiruddin’s sketchbook showing a drawing of a woman and child. n.d. Image Courtesy of Amin Rehman.


  1. Ustad Bashir Ud Din: The Last Master from Lahore School of Painters (Great Masters Series) , p5.
  2. Ibid,5.
  3. NCAA  Sr. No. 2 , File No. 35 P, 43, 133, 154 194, 195. Available at the National College of Arts, Lahore Archives.
  4. Nesom, (1984). Abdur Rahman Chughtai: A Modern South Asian Artist, p 18.
  5. Ibid, 23.
  6. Ibid, 38,39.
  7. Naqvi, Akbar. Image & Identity.p 4,5.
  8. Nesom, (1984). Abdur Rahman Chughtai: A Modern South Asian Artist. p 18.
  9. Naqvi, Akbar. Image & Identity.p 48.
  10. Ibid, p 46,47.
  11. Ibid, p 48.
  12. Murtaza, Z. (2022, November 1). Interview with Amin Rehman.
  13. As narrated by Amin Rehman, Ustad Bashiruddin use to live on Muslim Road, Qilla Gujjar Singh while Ustad Latif lived near the shrine of Shah Abu al Mali, Gawalmandi, both at walking distance from each other. During the summer holidays, both use to go to Lawrence Garden for a morning walk.
  14. Gautam, Shriya. The Ashta Nayikas: A Quantitative Approach to the Miniature Paintings of the Nayikas, p 123.
  15. Inspired by the Pahari School typologies of naikas did these artists also attempt to establish their own typologies in line with their own worldview for male and especially female representation? That is something to be considered for further research.
  16. Zupnick, I. L. (1953). The “Aesthetics” of the Early Mannerists, p 302.
  17. Rehman, A. Murtaza, Z. (2022, January –). Interview with Dr. Aijaz Anwar and Saeed Akhtar.
  18. Wellington, H. L. Norton (Ed.), The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, p 143.
  19. Ustad Bashiruddin appropriates and modifies the image in two different scenarios and compositions.

    In (Fig. 14) the peacock gazes lovingly at the ethereal vision of a female figure clad in wealthy attire; little details such as the marble arch, silk curtains, the niche, lamp, flame. marble jaalis and cypress trees in the distant horizon ascribe to the poetic metaphors, dream-like visions and visual vocabulary of Chughtai but the colour palette is in the sepia-grey tones of neem rung are Ustad Bashiruddin’s own innovations. Unlike Chughtai’s females that are often swathed in overwhelmingly large, sweeping layers of robes and shawls, Ustad Bashiruddin opts for a female typology that is diametrically opposite to that of his predecessor for this composition. Her frame is small, delicate and self-conscious. His embodiment of muslim cosmopolitanism19Dadi, I. (2006). Miniature Painting as Muslim Cosmopolitanism

  20. Murtaza, Z. (2022, November 8). Interview with Amin Rehman.
  21. Wellington, H. L. Norton (Ed.), The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, p 155.

Zohreen Murtaza is currently a Lecturer in the Cultural Studies Department at The National College of Arts, Lahore. She completed both her BFA and MA (Hons.) Visual Art from NCA, where she majored in miniature painting and visual art. Since then, she has branched into teaching and writing extensively on contemporary Pakistani art, her writings have been featured in various publications and daily newspapers. Zohreen has diverse research interests that revolve around feminism, post colonialism, globalisation and its impact on material and visual cultures. She has taught Art History courses both at NCA and Kinnaird College for Women as well as History of South Asian Design courses at the Undergraduate level in NCA. In addition, she has also taught South Asian Visual Culture at the M Phil level in the Cultural Studies Department at NCA.

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Comments (2)

  • This seems to be am amazing work with simplicity and perfection reflecting at its peak in his work. His work is greatly appreciated

    Naseem Minhas
  • This is a very well researched and well written article. Very important from the point of view of providing solid proof of Ustad Bashiruddin’s standing and less known contributions to the development of this art practice which has been over-shadowed by a giant like A.R. Chughtai. Loved reading all the details and historical references, in particular those provided by his son Amin Rehman through sharing of discussions with his father and his sketch book drawings and exquisite paintings

    Ali Adil Khan

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