Harry Pieris (1904 – 1988)

‘Sapumal – the flower that never blossoms in full but opens on partially’

Harry Pieris born in 1904, first studied painting under Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekera who then suggested that his parents send him to England. At the age of 19, Pieris entered the Royal College of Art in South Kensington where Sir William Rothenstein first recognized Pieris’s talent for portraiture. He said that Pieris had “a marked gift in giving the essentials of the sitters’ characters and his execution is mostt capable’ (Weereratne, 1993; p50).

Pieris won the prize for the best portrait in 1926, the portrait of his uncle, Sir James Pieris.

Following a brief stay in Sri Lanka after his studies, Pieris lived in Paris for six years, where he worked under Robert Folk and had the privilege of getting to know Madame Popesco.

In 1935, Harry Pieris went to Bengal to teach at the Rabindranath Tagore’s school in Santiniketan, introduced to him by Sir Rothenstein.

Pieris returned to Sri Lanka in 1938, with a great appreciation of Indian art. Ivan Peries’s comment on this observation is pertinent. “He used the same earth colours that we see in those paintings (at Ajanta). His palatte was a combination of Indian red, yellow ochre, terre-verte, lapis lazuli and cerulean blue” (Weeraratne, 1993; p50). In addition Professor Dissanayake observed an architectural quality in his method of developing his compositions.

Martin Russell in his article to the The “Times of Ceylon” in 1953 commented “If one day, a National Portrait Gallery comes into existance in Sri Lanka, Harry Pieris’s work will have the premier place in it for our generation. His soft, glowing colours and careful design, and his acute powers of observation, are among the most impressive facets of Ceylon painting’ (Weereratne, 1993; p51).

It is important to note that Harry Pieris was one who set up the ‘Sapumal Foundation’ which houses close to 800 pieces collected by him. Weereratne, writing to the ’Sunday Island’ states, ‘Harry Pieris bequeathed everything, his house and garden, what money he had and all of his collection to the creation of a treasury of Sri Lanka’s art, the work of the last one hundred years at least. He was, indeed, our indisputable arbiter eglantine.’

Reference: Weereratne (1993)

Name of Exhibition Year Place
43 Group 2nd Exhibition 1944 Darley Road, Colombo
43 Group 3rd Exhibition 1945 Darley Road, Colombo
43 Group 5th Exhibition 1947 Guildford Crescent, Colombo
43 Group 6th Exhibition 1948 Guildford Crescent, Colombo
43 Group 7th Exhibition 1949 Colombo
43 Group 8th Exhibition: The Art Gallery 1950 Guildford Crescent, Colombo
43 Group Contemporary Ceylonese Painting 1952 Imperial Institute, London
Exposition de L’Art Contemporain De Ceylon 1953 Paris
Artists International Association Gallery – 6 Contemporary Ceyloneses Painters 1954 London
The Heffer Gallery – Exhibition of Contemporary Painters from Ceylon 1954 Cambridge
43 Group 10th Exhibition: The Art Gallery 1955 Colombo
The 28th International Biennale 1956 Vennice
43 Group 11th Exhibition 1956 The Art Gallery, Guildford Crescent, Colombo
43 Group 12th Exhibition 1957 The Art Gallery, Guildford Crescent, Colombo
43 Group 13th Exhibition 1959 The Art Gallery, Guildford Crescent, Colombo
43 Group 14th Exhibition 1964 The Art Gallery, Guildford Crescent, Colombo
43 Group 16th Exhibition 1967 The Art Gallery, Guildford Crescent, Colombo
Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Harry Pieris 1984 The Sapumal Foundation, Barnes Place, Colombo
43 Group exhibition to honor George Keyt 1991 Colombo
Exhibition of the ’43 Group and Other Artists by The Taprobane Collection 2017 Nelum Arts Centre, Colombo
Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer
Harry Pieris The Sapumal Foundation Print Pack Limited
Harry Pieris – 1904-1988 2004 The Sapumal Foundation The Sapumal Foundation

Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in

Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer
Modern Sri Lankan Painters 1992 George Keyt Foundation Siri Printers
43 Group 1993 Neville Weereratne Lantana Publishing
The Heritage I, II, III Albert Dharmasiri R. Rajamahendran
Supplement to the Sapumal Foundation 2018 Rohan De Soysa The Sapumal Foundation

Ref :HP 3

Title :Head of Alsatian Dog

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1922

Measurements in Cms :21 x 17

Material Used :Pastel on Paper

Ref :HP 1

Title :Portrait of a Man

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1948

Measurements in Cms :45 x 38

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Ref :HP 2

Title :Portrait of a Lady

Measurements in Cms :44 x 30

Material Used :Pastel, Pencil, Gauche on Paper

Ref :HP 6

Title :Harry Pieris –Head

Year :1939

Material Used :Oil Stiff Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :38 x 27.5

Ref :HP 7

Title :Northern Sunset

Signed :Reverse

Year :1938

Material Used :Oil on Board

Dimensions in Cms. :44 x 63.5

Year Institute Qualification