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India hails George Keyt as ‘an icon of modern art, a demi-God in Sri Lanka’

India hails George Keyt as ‘an icon of modern art, a demi-God in Sri Lanka’

The Deccan Chronicle in India has published a lengthy review of a book that celebrates the life and times of celebrated Sri Lanka painter and poet George Keyt (1901–1993).

The Chronicle points out that Keyt (pictured right) “is rightly regarded as an icon of modern art, a demi-God in Sri Lanka. A Cubist painter, Keyt’s works have often been compared with the likes of Picasso (entrenched as they are in mythology from the subcontinent) and his contemporary, Henri Matisse”.

But little is known of that man behind this prodigious talent, which was what prompted Delhi-based art historian and biographer Yashodha Dalmia to write a biography on Keyt: ‘Buddha to Krishna: Life and Times of George Keyt’.

Having drawn a blank in Sri Lanka, Dalmia travelled to London, where she met Julian, the son of Keyt’s close friend Martin Russell.

It was through Julian that she found what she had been looking for—“a veritable treasure trove of letters, memorabilia and photographs. It was on the basis of this that I could write my biography”.

The letters, she said, are monumental in the field of literature, too—Keyt was a prolific writer and published two books of poetry, Darkness Disrobed and Image in Absence, before he took to painting.

Reports the Chronicla: “Keyt’s role in the context of modern art is pivotal. In 1947, Dalmia said, he had a show at the Convocation Hall in Mumbai, just before the progressive artists’ group w as formed there.

“Artists like Souza, Husain and Raza knew him, it’s only fitting that his name is inscribed in the making of modern art in India. Moreover, the importance he held for India was tremendous.”

The story is taken up by the Evelyn Waugh Society website, which reports that “Keyt chose to live quietly in a village, away from the bustle of the city. He was alone, but never isolated. Anyone who visited Sri Lanka went to see him, he was a true icon, in that sense.”

The visitors included actress Vivien Leigh, who bought his paintings, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and the British writer Evelyn Waugh, whose account (a letter to his wife) has been recorded in Dalmia’s book.

Read the Deccan Chronicle report here.

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