Lot 82 | Auction XXXVII



LOT 82


B. Sri Lanka, 1901 – 1993

Dancer, 1979

Signed and dated “Gkeyt 79” on upper right

Acrylic on cardboard

64 x 38 cm

Provenance Private Collection, Singapore

RM 22,000 – RM 25,000


George Keyt was a Sri Lankan artist, born in Kandy, to a Sinhalese – Dutch family on April 17, 1902. He was also a poet, known for his vibrant-coloured, Cubist-like figure paintings. Keyt’s artworks are a beautiful matrimony of the Sri Lankan life, calligraphic lines of Henri Matisse, and forms he found in ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, producing a wholly unique style. The artist and his works have been acknowledged as Sri Lanka’s most renowned and celebrated modern painter who developed an interest in art, literature and music while schooling at Trinity College.

During Keyt’s 20’s, he loved close to Malwatte Vihara, became enamored by the teachings of Buddhism and soon after, embraced the religion. His earliest paintings were produced in the late 1920’s – a close observations of nature. These included Udawattakele, the lush forest reserve in Kandy and Sangharaja Pirivena, a prominent temple in Kandy. In 1939, the artist moved to his neighboring country, India, where he assimilated himself in the local culture.

Keyt was strongly influenced by cubist experiments in perspective, and applied them in a way that was distinctly his own, drawing specifically from Indian artistic traditions. His subjects enlarged, embodied almond-shaped eyes, paired with bold, crisp, heavy lines and expressive grandeur became the defining formal features of his work. One can discern that the artist’s subjects are often nudes, depicting scenes from the local village life, or taken from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. This is evident in his work entitled, ‘Dancer, 1979’

After returning to Sri Lanka, Keyt helped in establishing the Colombo ‘43 group, whose tenets attempted to merge trends in European Modern movements into their own cultural sphere. Lionel Wendt (a Ceylon pianist, photographer, literature collector, critic, and cinematographer) played a key role in this Art movement and it was him, who influenced Keyt in his decision to devote himself totally to a life at the easel. The group also included fellow Sri Lankan painters Ivan Peiris and Harold Peiris. Dur ome art aficionados set up the George Keyt Foundation.

Keyt started exhibiting his works as early as in the 1920s. The 1930’s saw him preoccupied with the depiction of episodes from the Buddhist Jataka or Birth stories. At the same time, he was also exposed to the influence of Western art, the early cubist landscapes of Picasso and Braque in particular, as well as Picasso’s distortion of the human figure. Keyt created his distinct artistic vocabulary by creating a confluence of Buddhist and Hindu influences with Western elements. In 1954, the artist’s works were exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London by Sir Herbert Read, and afterwards, the exhibition travelled to the Art Institute of Rotterdam. His work is to be found in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the British Museum, as well as various public collections in India and Srilanka. Keyt continued to live in Kandy in between going to Ind nsidered as his spiritual home. The artist passed away in Colombo in 1993.