EducationPakistan Culture

Ismail Gulgee – Famous Artist From Pakistan

This article sheds light on the contribution of famous Pakistani painting artist and sculpture maker Ismail Gulgee. It also briefly discusses Gulgee’s educational journey, venture into the painting art, its characteristics including national and international acknowledgment. 

Who was Ismail Gulgee? 

Born in 1926 in Peshawar, Ismail Gulgee was one of the prolific painter artists and sculpture makers of his time from Pakistan. Unlike many others. he was a self-taught artist to make a name in painting art in the world.  


Gulgee got his early education from the Lawrence College Murree, Pakistan. He moved to Aligarh later where he studies civil engineering at Aligarh University.  To pursue further education, he moved to United Stated where he graduated in engineering from Columbia University. It was here at Columbia University that he started learning the art of painting. He did his doctoral degree in the same subject from Harvard University. 

Ismail Gulgee’s painting styles 

The following is a brief description of Ismail Gulgee’s painting styles i.e. portrait making, abstract Painting, and sculpture making.  

Portrait Making 

Portrait making was a hallmark of Gulgee’s artwork. He painted the whole royal family of Afghanistan to the end of the 1950s. As a skilled naturalist portrait maker, he was famous among the ruling class of most of the states. He painted portraits of people belonging to the elite class across the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say he enjoyed royal support all over the world. 

Abstract Painting 

Though Gulgee started painting earlier he got popularity in abstract work with the turn of the new decade, the 1960s. According to Gulgee, it was Islamic calligraphy that actually inspired him to venture into abstract art. However, the action painting movement of the nineteen fifties and sixties also had a profound influence on it.  

For example, popular abstract painter and muralist, Elaine Hamilton’s work is said to have a strong influence on Gulgee’s abstract work. 

Gulgee used relatively large canvases to express his views. He used somewhat mixed media pieces in his oil work i.e. mirror glass, gold, silver leaf.  His calligraphic paintings are abstract and gestural in interpretations of Arabic and Urdu letters. Moreover, the layers of paint display the formal qualities of oil paint. 

 Sculpture Making

Ismail Gulgee started working on the art of sculpture-making at the beginning of the 1960s. His younger brother Agha Sadaruddin also was also a sculpture maker and worked with Ismail Gulgee. They used to make bronze pieces that were calligraphic in form and inspiration especially on basis of the Holy Quran.

Awards and Recognition 

As one of the prolific artists of the 20th century, the world has generously recognized Ismail Gulgee’s contribution to painting art and sculpture making. He was conferred upon numerous awards the world over. Some of the prominent national awards that the government of Pakistan conferred upon Gulgee are as follows:

  • Pride of Performance Award given by the president of Pakistan in 1970;
  • Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence) Award given by Government of Pakistan in 1982 and; 
  • the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Crescent of Excellence) Award in 1995 by the President of Pakistan. 

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