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A short history of modern Sri Lankan painters



The pinnacle of Sri Lankan art are undoubtedly the Sigiriya frescoes dating back nearly 1500 years. During the colonial era, English and Dutch masters introduced Sri Lankan artists to paintings and pastels in the 19th century.


Sri Lanka, or erstwhile Ceylon, played host to the most significant movement in current Eastern art, where traditional art forms mingle with Western inspiration to produce universal work with a decidedly Eastern influence. Its great vitality springs from a contemplative humanist vision that gives an imaginative and lyrical interpretation of island life. It is both profound and optimistic.


One of the most important events in the Sri Lankan art scene is the formation of the “43 Group”, comparable to the ‘Salon des Independents’ in France. As the name implies, it was founded in 1943 in Colombo as a reaction to Victorian rigidity and the artistic sterility of the Ceylon Society of Arts.


Organiser-in-chief Lionel Wendt (1900-1944) and secretary Harry Pieris (1904-1988) set up the first exhibition that showcased worked by Harry Pieris, Justin Pieris Daranigayala, George Keyt, Ivan Peries, W. J. G. Beling, Manjusri Thero (later L.T.P. Manjusri), Aubrey C. Collette, R. D. Gabriel, Walter Witharne, Y. J. Thuring and George Claessen.


The 43 Group hoped to unite the famous modern artists of the time, giving them a non-academic space for free expression. They sought to foster a collective spirit and thus propagate the movement. The arrival of C.F. Winzer in 1920 greatly encouraged art in the region. With Wendt, Winzer encouraged all forms of art for nearly 11 years in Sri Lanka that this finally resulted in the formation of the 43 Group.


Although the Group was never rigid with rules and hierarchy, it maintained high standards. Their work created a pictorial tradition that allowed artists to work with Sri Lankan motifs without sacrificing personal style.


Today, Sri Lankan art scene is vibrant with contemporary talent and art galleries are more active than a decade ago.






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