Today marks the 110th birth anniversary of the greatest painter of modern Sri Lanka, George Keyt. Last year I related the story of the rediscovery of the ‘lost’ stained glass panels based on his stupendous canvas ‘Lanka Matha’ commissioned for the Ceylon Pavilion at the Expo 1967 in Montreal, Canada. Logistical problems involved in transporting these stained glass panels safely to Colombo led our government to gift them to the City of Montreal. .
|A closeup of the stained-glass reinterpretation of Keyt’s -’Lanka Matha’
After spending some years in storage, the cultural authorities in Montreal have installed the panels, beautifully back lit, in the foyer of the Bibliotheque [Library] Marie-Uguay. It is their star exhibit. Sri Lanka now has a cultural footprint in Canada.
My story which appeared in the Sunday Times last year stirred many ripples. This January I received an interesting email about the Keyt panels from Patrick Hogan in England (via Canadian diplomat Jean-Philippe Linteau).
A friend had sent him my article on these panels that had appeared in the Sunday Times. Patrick’s father and grandfather had both been designers at the Whitefriars Stained Glass Factory at Wealdstone that had transformed Keyt’s canvas into stained glass panels.
There is a network linking all the friends of Whitefriars and Patrick is in it. The Keyt installation is well remembered. The designer craftsman responsible for the work is Alfred Fisher, now living in retirement.
Patrick Hogan is a grandfather in his seventies and, believe it or not, now lives in a barge with his lap-top and dog, cruising along England’s old canals while communicating with his friends world wide.
Tongue-in-cheek his email call sign is ‘bargiepat’. He is fascinated with Keyt and my story of the lost canvas and the rediscovered stained glass installation.
He communicated with a friend Sheila Tshudy who works in the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, the largest such museum in the world.
We now ‘hit pay dirt’ [almost] in our search. The Corning Museum has a huge actual size composite photograph of Keyt’s painting – unfortunately in black and white.
This complete picture shows us that the installation in Montreal lacks the two end panels. In all their glory panels of a brilliant sun and a silvery moon frame the statuesque Lanka Matha.
Patrick has developed a computer coloured version which we may be able to see some time later. From a study of the Corning photograph Patrick discovered that some panels in Montreal have been assembled incorrectly and has informed the library of this. Alas, the original canvas is not at Corning either.
|The Whitefriars Factory
Thanks to Patrick I have communicated with the Whitefriars designer Alfred Fisher. He has a clear recollection of this commission and believes that Keyt knew the painting was to be transformed into stained glass form and had tried to adapt to it. Alfred says the original was half the size of the stained glass panels.
This was then photographically enlarged to suit the panel size. He believes the photograph at Corning Museum is the one he modelled his panels on. He is intrigued how it ended up in Corning together with his working sketches called “cartoons” Alfred had last seen them at a London Museum.
Apart from the fact that this work was commissioned by the Government of Ceylon he has, unfortunately, no recollection of the government representative who met him. Nor does he know what happened to the canvas after he made the panels.
However, he says that there were internal problems in Whitefriars at the time and this may have led to the original painting being rubbished. There the matter rests - for the moment.
(The writer is a Trustee, George Keyt Foundation)