A wide spectrum of 20th century art and artists

Book facts : Sri Lankan Painting in the 20th Century by Senake Bandaranayake and Albert Dharmasiri, published by the Sri Lanka National Trust for Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Painterly activity of 20th century Sri Lanka reflects the combination of tradition and modernisation of Sri Lankan society through that century.

This was a crucial period which saw not only the regaining of the country’s political independence after centuries of colonial hegemony but also, from at least half a century earlier, a historic break in the trajectory of its cultural evolution.

The principal purpose of this book is to present an image or transect of painterly activity in the past century. It discusses a number of representative artists, extending from those who were active in and around 1900 to those who began to produce their mature work before the end of the century. Short inset texts by the authors and other contributors focus on 12 major painters.

The book is an expression of the obvious axiom that art is a reflection of society of its time. ‘A painting, like a poem, is a document, to be read in one way, or many ways, in the present – and probably in different ways in the future. It is a tangible and evocative record of its time.’ Paintings reflect aspects of a society’s spirit, its vision, its apprehension of reality, its distinctive styles, its global contexts and connections.

A transitional society like ours has, at one and the same time, many ‘layers’ of social and cultural development – traditions, continuities, transformations, innovations, pluralities, borrowings, imitations. A consequence of this multiplicity is what we encounter in a wide and many-layered artistic spectrum, represented in this book in reproductions of the work of nearly 80 artists and over 200 colour and black-and-white illustrations.

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