Neville Weereratne (1931)

Neville sometimes left the faces blank in a painting. When asked why he did so he replied: “Because I don’t know who they are.” He didn’t paint specific people. The figures could be of any Sri Lankan but depicted so viewers could recognize certain feelings in human relationships in the context of the land to which they belong.

Neville Weereratne was an artist, journalist and author who referred to himself as a “second generation member” of the ‘43 Group of Sri Lanka that ignited the contemporary and modernist art scene in the country. During the latter years of his life, Weereratne also penned a significant amount of literature on the history of art in Sri Lanka, especially on Justin Daraniyagala, Richard Gabriel and Tissa Ranasinghe, as well as overviews of the ‘43 Group. He passed away in Melbourne on January 3, 2018. Weereratne’s portfolio of work is unique in that it comprises a range of work: oil on canvas paintings, illustrations for books as well as drawings done for local newspapers. Despite differences in the form each artwork takes, a characteristic that runs across his body of work is the capturing of human relationships over focus placed on a single individual. 

A student at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo in the 1940s, Weereratne studied art under Richard Gabriel, one of the founding members of the ‘43 Group. He first exhibited his work alongside other members of the Group in 1952 in London, and continued to support the Group organising regular international exhibitions with Ranjit Fernando. Although he moved to Australia with his wife Sybil Keyt in the early 1970s, they often visited Sri Lanka and had a series of exhibitions together at the Barefoot Gallery (previously known as Gallery 706). Weereratne’s work can be found in permanent collections around the world, including Sri Lanka, India, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland and USA. 

Tony Donaldson contemplates on Weereratne’s work as follows: “Neville drew subjects from everyday experiences – fruit sellers, village girls, lovers, outrigger canoes, musicians, dancers, and family scenes. He was attracted to water pots, stray dogs and Buddhist monks because they were so much a part of the Sri Lankan landscape that he found it impossible to avoid these subjects in his art.” Creativity was not a mere exercise of the mind for Weereratne, it was a facilitation of engagement with the world and its subjects around him. Landscapes of bold, vibrant colours such as red, orange, green, blue and yellow surround the figures in his paintings, giving them a distinctive quality made to effect changes in the beholder’s mood and emotions.

While he was interested in creating art, his works were not as politically charged as those of some other members of the ‘43 Group. His aim was to capture certain universal themes and feelings associated with being a Sri Lankan, and therefore often painted persons with blank expressions because he, by his own admission, did not know who they were. Thus, he adopted a distinct style defying recognisability, and chose not to paint portraits of specific personalities like certain artists including Aubrey Collette, Harry Pieris and Lionel Wendt of the ‘43 Group did.
In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2010 Weereratne acknowledged that despite his decision to leave Sri Lanka and migrate to Australia, he has “always been deeply attached to Sri Lanka, its traditions, its people, its landscape, the culture.”

“I took it with me. I draw on my memories of this, of my childhood, my youth.” 

Name of Exhibition Year Place
Retrospective Exhibition 1967 Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt 1991 Highway Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt 1993 Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt 1999 Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt
Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt 2002 Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Recent Paintings and Drawings by Sybil Keyt and Neville Weereratne 2004 Gallery 706, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer
43 Group: A Chronicle of Fifty Years in the Art of Sri Lanka (with Dominic Sansoni) 1993 Lantana Publishing, London, UK
The Art of Richard Gabriel 1999 Moosajees, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Visions of an Island: Rare works from Sri Lanka in the Christopher Ondaatje Collection 1999 HarperCollins, New York, USA
George Beven: a Life in Art 2004 Amici Dance Theatre Company, London, UK
The Sapumal Foundation Collection: A Select Catalogue 2009 The Sapumal Foundation, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Justin Deraniyagala: Oil Paintings 2011 Arjun Deraniyagala, Colombo, Sri Lanka
The Sculpture of Tissa Ranasinghe 2013 The National Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka
The Artist in Every Child: The Legacy of Cora Abraham 2015 Cora Abraham Art Classes, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in

Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer

Documentaries

Name of Documentary Year of Production

Ref :NW 1

Title :Elders

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2001

Measurements in Cms :60.5 x 90.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :60.5 x 90.5

Ref :NW 11

Title :Priests at Aukana

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2001

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :30 x 40.5

Ref :NW 30

Title :Fishermen at Dawn Kirindi

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :76 x 152

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :76 x 152

Ref :NW 36

Title :Country Folk

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :59 x 49.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :59 x 49.5

Ref :NW 37

Title :Country House

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :45.5 x 60

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :45.5 x 60

Ref :NW 44

Title :Dancing Apsara with Musicians

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :60.5 x 90

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :60.5 x 90

Ref :NW 45

Title :Apsara with Attendants

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :61 x 75.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :61 x 75.5

Ref :NW 46

Title :Flowers for the Temple

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :75.5 x 61

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :75.5 x 61

Ref :NW 47

Title :Perahera Musicians

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :45 x 60.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :45 x 60.5

Ref :NW 48

Title :Bathers

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :59.5 50

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :59.5 x 50

Ref :NW 49

Title :Bathers

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :49.5 x 80

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :49.5 x 80

Ref :NW 50

Title :Villagers at the Beach

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :75.5 x 151.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :75.5 x 151.5

Ref :NW 51

Title :Fishermen & Women on the Beach

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :74.5 x 151.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :74.5 x 151.5

Ref :NW 52

Title :Thambilli Seller

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :75 x 100.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :75 x 100.5

Ref :NW 58

Title :Idyll 1

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :61 x 75.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :61 x 75.5

Ref :NW 59

Title :Alms for a Monk

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :90.5 x 76

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :90.5 x 76

Ref :NW 62

Title :A Country Promenade

Signed :Lower Left & Reverse

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :49.5 x 59.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :49.5 x 59.5

Ref :NW 63

Title :The Family

Signed :Lower Left & Reverse

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :59.5 x 43.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :59.5 x 43.5

Ref :NW 64

Title :The Sower

Signed :Lower Left & Reverse

Measurements in Cms :59.5 x 49

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :59.5 x 49

Ref :NW 65

Title :The Meeting

Signed :Lower Left & Reverse

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Oil on Canvass

Dimensions in Cms. :60.5 x 45

Ref :NW 66

Title :On Poya Day

Signed :Lower Left & Reverse

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :50 x 39

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :50 x 39

Ref :NW 68

Title :Landscape with Lovers

Signed :Lower Left & Reverse

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :59.5 x 90

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :59.5 x 90

Ref :NW 71

Title :The Farewell

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2014

Measurements in Cms :75 x 92

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :75 x 92

Ref :NW 72

Title :The Tryst

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2012

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Oil on Canvass

Dimensions in Cms. :75.5 x 60.5

Ref :NW 75

Title :Bathing Women

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2013

Measurements in Cms :59.5 x 39.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :59.5 x 39.5

Ref :NW 76

Title :Beach Workers

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2014

Measurements in Cms :49 x 39.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :49 x 39.5

Ref :NW 82

Title :Monks by the Kandy Lake

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2012

Measurements in Cms :51 x 40.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :51 x 40.5

Ref :NW 83

Title :Pilgrims Rest

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2014

Measurements in Cms :59.5 x 79.5

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :59.5 x 79.5

Ref :NW 96

Title :Nude on Horton Plains

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2015

Measurements in Cms :60.5 x 51

Material Used :Oil on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :60.5 x 51

Year Institute Qualification