By Azara Jaleel

Lionel Wendt (1900 – 1944) is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost Modernist legacies, whose timeless works of art reveal a valiant imagination, reflecting the splendour immersed in the ordinary. His photographs, in my opinion, reflect unequivocally the allure of the human spirit, the beauty of the human form and the magnificence of Sri Lanka’s heritage. In doing so, Lionel Wendt’s photographs, remain timeless, and the selected photographs for this inaugural visual edition of ARTRA Magazine depict the profound depth and beauty of the artist’s vision. 

Every featured photograph in this inaugural visual edition of ARTRA Magazine, has been carefully selected for its esoteric quality in capturing the day-to-day, the exquisiteness of the human form and the artist’s homage to the nation’s ancient traditions, culture and heritage – in all honesty. L.C Van Geyzel, in his Introduction to Lionel Wendt’s Ceylon (1950), refers to Lionel Wendt’s fervent desire to ‘express the life of the people of his country’ while also stating that the artist was a ‘stimulating purveyor of modern artistic ideals’. These are reflected in his acute curiosity and his highly personalised relationship with his subject matter. What you will witness as you turn each page on this edition of the Magazine, dear reader, is that each selected photograph invokes a sense of vitality to life, while bringing forth the stately, in simplicity and the magnificence, in the nation’s ancient traditions. 

We also chose to explore the works of Lionel Wendt in terms of their relevance in today’s contemporary context, particularly in relation to the multiple and varied influences that contribute to our nation’s unique cultural discourses. Not only was Lionel Wendt born to a father of Dutch Burger descent and mother of Sinhalese parentage, his works were characteristic of a combination of varied influences of art forms, genres and styles. Manel Fonseka, in her essay, Rediscovering Lionel Wendt (1996), in ‘Lionel Wendt, A Centennial Tribute’ states that in the artist’s student years in Europe, stimulated his interests in the visual arts, and especially in the modern movement in painting. One of his early purchases was a still life in tempera, ‘Dunkirk: Barometer, Wool & Floats’, by the English avant-garde painter Edward Wadsworth, and indeed his interest in the work of the surrealists is evident in his photography. 

Additionally, the artist was deeply inspired by the late Romantics of the time. L.C Van Geyzel (1950) states that Lionel Wendt was also eagerly reading Shaw, Wells and Bennet hinting at the extensive range which characterises his work and the way in which he handles the ‘simple & direct’, ‘the exotic’, the satirical and the fantastical. However, through his  subject matter, Lionel Wendt manipulates the Western style by presenting the Ceylonese way of life, where people are presented in harmony with their culture and environment – a public imagining of truth and beauty, evidently reflected in the photographs featured throughout this edition. 

I have been fascinated by Lionel Wendt’s holistic grasp of the photographer’s role in celebrating beauty through authenticity and marking diversity across time. Wendt’s works brings forth whimsical embodiments of the Sri Lankan consciousness, be it the sensual glory of the dark skin, the rapture swathed upon a fisherman’s physique, the grandeur encapsulated in the carvings of temples to the mystical landscapes of the island - Wendt presents a truly enchanting introspection to every Sri Lankan’s identity, irrespective of their social disposition or circumstance. And it is the combination of these characteristics of his works that reflect the integrity of Lionel Wendt’s perceptions, taste and style, that transmits the artist’s adoration for his country gallantly. Wendt’s photography is a genuine expression of his character, of sincerity and honesty. 

We are deeply grateful to those who contributed immensely to this special endowment of ARTRA Magazine, as they all did with much love and earnest in gratitude of Lionel Wendt’s contribution to Sri Lanka’s Modernist legacy. David Robson, for his essays ‘A Portrait of Lionel Wendt’ & ‘Lionel Wendt and The Song of Ceylon’, and most importantly, for his encouragement and profound insights on Lionel Wendt’s milestones. C. Anjalendran, for his thoughts on Lionel Wendt’s philosophical underpinnings and many perceptive conversations at his wondrous home of light, shade and artistic splendour. Udayshanth Fernando, for his discerning works of Lionel Wendt from his exquisite private collection for this special edition of ARTRA Magazine, and for sharing his personal recollection of purchasing his Lionel Wendt photographs, with much detail and delight. A special thank you to Anu Weerasinghe, Dilrukshi Rambukwella and the Lionel Wendt Memorial Trust for their relentless support in sharing eclectic works of Lionel Wendt from their vast collection, that is now archived on their official website, and for also contributing their valued literature for reading and research. A heartfelt thank you to all.  

We hope you immerse in every photograph, as we are sure that as you turn every page, you will find yourself revitalized by beauty, bewilderment and bounty. 

Azara Jaleel 


18th February, 2021 Visual Art | Conceptual