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GEORGE KEYT (1901-1993)
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 2… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF RENE MARGIES AND MATTHIAS SERVAIS (LOTS 90-95) After having travelled to Sri Lanka over 10 years admiring more and more the beauty of the country and its magnificent culture, it happened one day in 1981 that we discovered in a private house in Colombo several extraordinary impressive paintings. The paintings' signature (George Keyt) did at that time not mean anything to us, so we assumed that he might be a European painter. We learnt how wrong we were, as the house owner proudly explained, that George Keyt is an internationally renowned artist and probably the most talented living painter of Sri Lanka. Being keen to meet the artist personally, we found him after a long search in a small village upcountry near the town of Kandy; that was in the winter of 1981. The reception by George Keyt for us was warm and very friendly. After an interesting talk with the artist and his wife he was keen to show us his studio, which hosted several paintings, for which he gave interesting comments and explanations. We felt great, as we were able to purchase that very day two lovely paintings. We immediately began to contact many of our old friends in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka in order to trace information about George Keyt in the form of past newspaper articles. Through newspaper advertisements we were able to buy some rare books about him, which were out of print, and we also found newspaper clippings from 1964. Quite interesting: in the Library of the famous Museum of Art in Zurich/Switzerland we found in the Encyclopedia of the 20th Century a detailed curriculum vitae of George Keyt. It was in those days impossible to find in Sri Lanka high quality painting materials, so Keyt asked us to bring such things with us whenever we came to Sri Lanka. We met him at least once a year, and in between we exchanged correspondence, which led to a good friendship. Our interest in his wonderful art grew, and we had to realize how difficult it was to find paintings of various periods. After long unsuccessful searching we asked him one day, whether he could introduce us to owners or collectors, who would be prepared to sell one of his paintings. He pointed out that his wife Kusum had 10 important paintings in her possession, all placed in a friend's house in the southern town of Galle. A day later we were taken to that house and Kusum made us understand that she was prepared to sell some of these wonderful works, because they were planning to build a new house with a studio. We instantly bought 7 out of the 10 paintings, which we look at daily and highly appreciate. Later we had the chance to purchase more of his paintings from other collectors, including his long-term friend Martin Russell in England, who wrote in 1949 a unique book titled George Keyt. Having become friends, we invited Kusum and George to spend a holiday with us in our newly built Colonial Style house on the East coast near Trincomalee. When they were ready to come over, it happened unfortunately, that the disturbances broke out, and there was no possibility they could stay with us, as we could not guarantee their safety. Being back in Europe, we got the paintings specially framed, and they were hung in our house in Switzerland. George was so thrilled to see how tastefully we had done the framing, that he offered to explain his works in his own handwriting to be placed under each painting. Six years ago we changed residence to Barbados in the West Indies, and we took our whole art collection with us. Here in Barbados, which is an international (melting pot) we have a lot of visitors to our house, some of them art collectors, all of them totally fascinated by the impressive work of George Keyt and they not only ask questions about the artist, they also want to learn more about a country, which had such an unique artist. For us it is a great pleasure to be a kind of (ambassador) for Sri Lanka, as we have a wide knowledge of the country, its people and its grand history. For Matthias and myself it was not only an important event to meet the artist personally, we also had many good talks and enjoyed his unique personality and his warm heart. While India for example has brought up its Rabindranath Tagore, France its Jean Cocteau, Sri Lanka has reason to be proud of its multi-talented George Keyt. Meeting and becoming a friend of George Keyt was for us the greatest experience ever in Sri Lanka. --Rene Margies and Matthias Servais
GEORGE KEYT (1901-1993)


GEORGE KEYT (1901-1993)
signed and dated 'G Keyt 73' (lower left)
acrylic on canvas
25 x 26¼ in. (63.5 x 66.7 cm.)
Painted in 1973
Formerly in the collection of Kusum Keyt, Colombo, Sri Lanka
A. Halpe (ed.), George Keyt, Colombo, 1977, front cover, p. 106 (illustrated)
A. Tappe, 'Liebe Als Universelle Idee: George Keyt - Ein Ceylonesischer Maler Geht Neue Wege', Mercedes-Benz In Aller Welt, Germany, Issue 5, 1986, p. 33 (illustrated)
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VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Lot Essay

"The lyric painting of George Keyt is sensuous Indian poetry brought to canvas. Like earlier Indian painters of Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills, and M. F. Husain after him, Keyt takes as his primary theme woman as the focus of man's concern. He paints her in flat planes, with bounding lines and rich warmth of color. His idiom occasionally carries in it a hint of Picasso but is, once again, in direct line with the traditional styles of Central India, Mewar, and Basohli. But the originality of Keyt's inspiration is undoubted, and his work remains uniquely his own." (R. Bartholomew and S. S. Kapur, Husain, Abrams, New York, 1972, p. 27)

George Keyt didn't start painting until he was 26, but he quickly went on to become an international giant of Modern art and arguably Sri Lanka's most celebrated 20th Century artist. His unique visual idiom combined European Modernist innovations with the ancient South Asian fresco techniques found at Ajanta and Sigiriya. His earliest work was distinctly Gauginesque-sumptuous pastorals and figure studies free from overt perspectival abstraction, populated by luxuriant nudes and semi-nudes swaddled in robes, limbs graceful and provocatively intertwined. By the early 1930s, the cubism that would forever alter the character of his paintings began to emerge in his work. Still, Keyt perpetually re-invented his craft, adopting and discarding countless subtle variations in style across his seven decade career.

Despite his clear admiration for cubist and fauvist principles, his subject matter was almost always rooted in local tradition, depicting dancers, shepherdesses, and gods, often drawn from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Examples of this are seen in the masterpieces Gopika Vastra Paharana, 1952 (lot 91) and Mahesha Mardini, 1968 (lot 95).

In Gopika Vastra Paharana, Keyt draws on classical Indian painting and pichhwai depictions of the divine lila -- a moment of divine rapture where Krishna, on the banks of the Yamuna captures the hearts of the gopis, earning him the title "thief of hearts". In Mahesha Mardini, Keyt gives us his rendition of the story of Durga, armed with a trident from Shiva, Chakra from Vishnu, a lion from the Himalayas and a bow and arrow from Vayu, attacks Mahishasura, the half man - half buffalo demon, killing him after nine days of fierce battle.

Throughout his lifetime, Keyt's work was exhibited alongside leading European artists in galleries around the world. Most notably, in 1930, he exhibited alongside Picasso and Braque at the Zwemmer Gallery in London. Pablo Neruda wrote the introduction for the catalogue of this exhibition.

"Keyt I think is the living nucleus of a great painter. In all his works, there is the moderation of maturity. [His] figures take on a strange expressive grandeur, and radiate an aura of intensely profound feeling." (W. G. Archer, India and Modern Art, London, 1959, p. 124)

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