The '43 Group

“Good art is always new” – what do you think about this statement by George Keyt? When exploring the timelessness of art, it is inevitable to come across the ’43 Group. Dubbed as such due to its initiation in 1943, the ’43 Group consists of Sri Lanka’s greatest artists of all time including, Lionel Wendt, Geoff Beling, Harry Pieris, Richard Gabriel, Ivan Pieris, George Keyt, George Claessen, Aubrey Collette, Justin Deraniyagala, and L. T. P. Manjusri. So why exactly do we talk about the ’43 Group? Let’s find out!

In 1943, Ivan and Collette approached Lionel Wendt with the idea of forming the alternative painting fraternity, the ‘43 Group, which became Ceylon’s first Modern Art movement. Successful exhibitions in London, Paris and the Venice Biennale of Collette’s work put the Sri Lankan art scene on the International map. ‘43 Group was influenced by both the style and the subjects of the Impressionists and Expressionists.

Lionel Wendt of ’43 Group was a pianist, photographer, literature collector, critic, and cinematographer. He is acclaimed internationally for his experimental techniques and modern compositions. Further in 2017, the work of Lionel Wendt was exhibited at the highly revered Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany. After he passed away, The Lionel Wendt Art Centre, a major art centre and theatre was opened up to build a space for art enthusiasts to showcase their talent. Aubrey Collette was born in 1920 in Ceylon as the youngest child of photographer Jos Collette, to a family with creativity in their bloodstream and a keen taste for art. He was best known for his skills in the field of cartoon creating; Collette was fortunate enough to work closely with and learn from celebrated artist David Paynter alongside his friend Ivan Pieris, whose works of art held his unique vision of the Island’s landscape. L. T. P. Manjusri contributed by preserving sacred pieces of art insisting a national awareness for their importance. Justin Deraniyagal ‘s art is said to depict Picasso’s saying, ‘painting is the sum of destructions’ due to its exhilarating brush strokes of paint amidst rich colours.

It gets even more interesting! “Nations are made by artists and poets, not by traders and politicians. Art contains in itself the deepest principles of life, the truest guide to the greatest art, the art of living” this statement of Ananda Coomaraswamy, inspired artist Harry Pieris, founder of The Sapumal Foundation. George Keyt is often considered Sri Lanka’s most distinguished modern painter whose style was influenced by Cubism contributed abundantly to the art society. The George Keyt Foundation, founded by himself, was a space committed to promoting and encouraging Sri Lankan artists including painters, sculptors, musicians and writers, establishing a gallery of modern Sri Lankan art, while also dedicated to preserving George Keyt`s work Richard Gabriel, yet another prolific Sri Lankan artist, has his work exhibited in the UK and France in 1952-53 and at the Venice and Sao Paulo in the permanent collection of the Musee de Petit Palais in Paris. Geoff Beling’s masterpieces too were influenced by Cubism and proceeded to exhibit with George Keyt in 1930 and 1932. From abstract to impressionistic paintings and line drawings, a range of work of artist, sculptor, poet, George Claessen was a Sri Lankan artist and poet whose art was characterised by his mystical outlook and beliefs.

Long considered to be the pioneers and forefathers of modern art, the ‘43 Group have stamped their signature both locally and internationally with their iconic work, celebrating a Sri Lankan way of life. Their love for the arts, including visual, performance, applied and literary further enhances their work. The ’43 Group present art that consists of rare examples and biographical summaries of the attitudes of the artists of the group. The Group were responsible for the formation of an alternative space of expression, for instance, George Keyt’s works of art and his powerful ability to capture the beauty of human nature; his paintings largely present a celebration of femininity and feminine beauty. The efforts put in by the ’43 Group forged a path of their own in leading themselves to establish the foundation of an internationally acclaimed movement of cultural modernism. Did you know that three of George Keyt’s significant works were auctioned at the Sotheby’s Sale of Modern and Contemporary Art? In October 2018, the three works that graced the occasion were ‘Lovers (1935)’, ‘Nayika (1943)‘ and an untitled piece of a couple embracing circa the 1960s. But that’s not all, his works explore intriguing subjects that are a must-read. 

Click here to find out more about George Keyt, his inspiration, mode of expression and his paintings’ depiction in ARTRA Magazine's E42 article 'Keyt's Women'.





ARTRA is Sri Lanka’s Art Magazine exploring curated content on Sri Lanka’s visual art, performance art, applied art and written art. Launched in 2012, ARTRA Magazine is a compact monthly art read providing a comprehensive understanding on Sri Lankan artists, art events, monthly art calendars and the Sri Lankan design landscape. In sum, all you need to know about art in Sri Lanka.


3rd April, 2019 Visual Art | Paintings