Please note this painting was exhibited in a solo show Bombay, 1947 and was featured on the cover of the exhibition catalogue.
"Its [The '43 Group's] work, especially at the peak of its development in 1940s and 1950s, represented one of the most outstanding achievements of modern Asian art in its time." (S. Bandaranayake and M. Fonseka ed., Ivan Peries Paintings 1938-88, Melbourne, 1996, p. 9)
The legacy of the '43 Group was fundamental, not only in its impact on the visual culture of Sri Lanka but in terms of developing an international platform for a modern South Asian art. Parallels are inevitably drawn with the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group. Both were groups of a new generation of likeminded artists seeking to break with colonial orientalist idioms in favor of "A mode of indigenized modernization, of great originality and authenticity." (S. Bandaranayake and M. Fonseka ed., Ivan Peries Paintings 1938-88, Melbourne, 1996, p. 9) This group of visionary Sri Lankan artists, of which founding members included George Keyt, George Claessen and Ivan Peries, all shared this sentiment and so the '43 Group was conceived, having its first exhibition in Colombo in 1943. The influence of western painting was maintained by the Ceylon Society of Arts which advocated a traditional nineteenth century art education. "John Berger, the art critic of the New Statesman, in an introductory note in the catalogue of the first '43 Group exhibition in London in 1952, said it was 'an imported if not imposed art: an art deriving from the nineteenth century English tradition with an exotically 'oriental' overtone added'." (N. Weereratne, 43 Group: A Chronicle of Fifty Years of Art in Sri Lanka, Melbourne, 1993, p. 13)
The Ceylon Society of Arts rejected the numerous applications of artists that did not conform to their standards, leaving many disenchanted artists without a platform to exhibit or forum to exchange ideas. It was from under the prohibitive shadow of the status quo of the Ceylon Society of Arts that the '43 Group of ambitious and modernizing artists emerged. Whilst exact accounts of the first meeting of the group differ, seven or eight artists met on 29 August 1943 in Colombo to form the '43 Group. They were hosted by Lionel Wendt, a photographer and critically influential anchor for the artists. The meeting included Ivan Peries, Lester James Peries, Aubrey Collette, George Claessen, Richard Gabriel, Harry Pieris. Though absent from this first meeting, the group decided to include George Keyt, Justin Daraniyagala and Manjusri Theo. Keyt's Bhima and Jarasandha (lot 141) featured in the inaugural exhibition in November 1943 as catalogue no. 59.
"The most remarkable thing about the Group [...] was that it was made up of artists who were so diverse in style and temperament [...] Each member had his own individual style and outlook, and yet we held together as a cohesive whole." (A. Collette quoted in, 43 Group: A Chronicle of Fifty Years of Art in Sri Lanka, p. 19) There was no official manifesto, however they readily devoured influences from European and American modernism first introduced to them by Charles Freegrove Winzer, the Ceylon Governments' Inspector of Art. For Keyt "Winzer provided a window into a fresh and unfamiliar world of painting. He introduced them to the work of the Impressionists; to Pissarro, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh; and Picasso and Matisse." (43 Group: A Chronicle of Fifty Years of Art in Sri Lanka, p. 16) The group according to Keyt were prejudicial with what they assimilated, "Happily for us the '43 Group is no narrow fanatical body in its reception of modern art and the welcome it has always extended to Western trends in Europe and what it could gather from such vital trends in America. In fact its main cause of origin was the rejection of the obsolete and the dead in the art of Ceylon and all that has resulted from the obsolete and dead deriving from the art of Europe." (G. Keyt quoted in, N. Weereratne, 43 Group: A Chronicle of Fifty Years of Art in Sri Lanka, Melbourne, 1993, p. 16) However it was in moving abroad to England that those masters of '43 Group really gained recognition. Following a similar trajectory to the Bombay Progressive Artists' group emigrated to Europe where they further assimilated and incorporated external influences into their art. The first exhibition was at the Imperial Institute in London in November 1952 at the invitation of the Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society - George Claessen was present at the opening. A similar exhibition followed in Paris at Petit Palais in November 1953 with the museum acquiring works by Ivan Peries. In London further exhibitions and acclaim ensued at the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Beaux Arts Gallery and Artists International Association Gallery culminating in the landmark exhibition at the Heffer gallery in Cambridge where Martin Russell, the art critic and collector of Keyt, was a guest speaker. Keyt remained on the subcontinent but Claessen and Peries both spent the majority of their lives working and exhibiting in London. These key members of the group continued to exhibit in their native Sri Lanka, however they gained increased international acclaim participating in biennales in Venice and Sao Paulo. Despite the diasporic nature of the group, each artist maintained distinct vocabularies that incorporated the western modernist idiom whilst retaining their Sri Lankan heritage and vernacular.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF RENE MARGIES AND MATTHIAS SERVAIS