The Taprobane Collection is one of Sri Lanka's most extensive gathering of paintings and art works. It contains a carefully chosen number of the works of Sri Lanka's most celebrated artists.
They follow the development of painting in the trail of the years of British colonialism from the latter years of the Nineteenth Century. They came into full flowering in the early Twentieth Century, encouraged initially by Charles Freegrove Winzer, a British educationist who recognized the value of traditional art of the country; the murals and frescoes found on temple walls, and in the sculptures carved in granite. These were found mainly in Anuradhapura (from 543 BC to 1758 AD), Sigiriya in the fifth century, and Polonnaruwa in the twelfth century.
This tradition continued into modern times in the temples of Kandy and those of the south coast. These were the traditions that inspired modern painters. Its finest product was that of George Keyt whose murals of the life of the Buddha at the Gotami Vihare in Colombo (1938 - 1939) is the ultimate expression of the art of Sri Lanka.
He and eight other painters formed the original '43 Group. Other, younger painters were encouraged to join them, and among these were Sita Kulasekera (Richard Gabriel's wife), Gamini Warnasuriya (a pupil of Aubrey Collette at Royal College) and the writer of this note, Neville Weereratne, a pupil of Gabriel at St Joseph's College and later of Ivan Peries.
Ever keen to encourage the development of a studied and mature spectrum of art, Harry Pieris, the Group's original and most dedicated secretary encouraged members of a younger generation, pupils of the art teacher, Mrs Cora Abraham, and any others who showed even a vestige of interest.
They were all easel painters, devoting their efforts to rediscovering, in a variety of modern styles, the beauty of Sri Lanka and the nature of its people. This was what characterized the '43 Group which enjoyed the patronage of Lionel Wendt.
The Taprobane Collection has been dedicated in the task of collecting the best examples of this work. This collection which reaches beyond the contemporary to very ancient works runs into thousands of individual pieces.
† Neville Weereratne has contributed immensely on documenting Sri Lankan Art and we as a Nation, owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. It was a privilege to obtain his insight for this website but unfortunately, he passed away on the 7th of January 2018 prior to the website being published.
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Bandaranayake, S. and Fonseka, M (1996), ‘Ivan Peries Paintings – 1938-88’ Colombo, Tamarind Publications
Dharmasiri, A (1988) ‘Modern Art In Sri Lanka – The Anton Wickremasinghe Collection’, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, Colombo
Goonethilake, I. (1990) ‘George Keyt Drawings’ The George Keyt Foundation, Colombo.
Rodrigo, N., Dharmasiri, A., Prof. Dissanayake, S. (2001-9), ‘Aubrey Collette’, The Serendib Gallery; Accessed at http://www.artsrilanka.org/43group/collette/index.html
Wanigaratne, S. (1999); ‘George Claessen – Artist, Sculptor and Poet – 1909-99’, Paradise Isle Publications, London
Weereratne, N. (1993), '43 Group: A chronical of fifty years in the art of Sri Lanka' Melbourne. Lantana Publishing.
Weeraratne, N (1999); ‘The Art of Richard Gabriel’, Moosajees, Colombo