Born into a family of artists in Lahore, M. A. R. Chughtai learnt to draw from his father, Mia Karim Baksh. He obtained a diploma in photo lithography from the Mayo School of Art, Lahore, in 1914, before learning printmaking techniques and etching in London. He also apprenticed under Abanindranath Tagore in Calcutta and toured Europe from 1927 to 1931, holding solo shows.
Despite post-Partition Pakistani claims on his heritage, Chughtai’s contribution towards the entire subcontinent’s art is substantial, which include works such as portraits based on Ghalib’s poetry. His Persian training in wash technique with its colours, fine lines, and eclectic subjects, ranging from Buddhist themes, Hindu epics and Radha-Krishna scenes, to illustrative paintings for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, ensure the distinct niche he carved for himself. Aligned stylistically with the Bengal school at a time of swadeshi ideology in art, Chughtai significantly contributed towards resurrecting an Islamic cultural and political identity. As Pakistan’s national artist, his publication Amale-Chughtai and original works were gifted to heads of visiting foreign states. The founder member of Pakistan Art Council, his contribution towards its nation building extended to designing postal stamps and insignia for Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television.