Tuesday, 6 March 2012


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Birth anniversary on March 2:

Gate Mudaliyar Amarasekara unfolded treasures of Eastern art

Gate Mudaliyar Amarasekara

The 129th birth anniversary of Gate Mudaliyar Abraham Christopher Gregory Suriarachi Amarasekara who rendered tremendous service in the field of art and culture by way of unfolding the treasures of Eastern art was on March 2, 2012.

Indeed, his work had made a great impact on our cultural revival and was instrumental for an early renaissance.

In fact, the 18th and 19th centuries produced some of the brightest thinkers, intellectuals, political leaders, social reformers and cultural revivalists at a time when Sri Lanka (Ceylon) had suffered three centuries of Western conquest, multi-faceted in its manifestations and consequences - political, economic, cultural and religious. But, the late Gate Mudaliyar A. C. G. S. Amarasekera undoubtedly had opened our eyes to the need for the national consciousness for the progress of national culture and art and individuality.

Artist and magician

Gate Mudaliyar A. C. G. S. Amarasekara was born on March, 2, 1883 in Dodanduwa, South Ceylon, where his father Rev Abraham S Amarasekara was a scholarly Minister of the Church. Even Rev Amarasekara himself was an artist of no mean repute in his days at Trinity College, was later responsible for the revised translation of the prayer book and Bible into Sinhala. A. C. G. S. Amarasekara was fortunate as both sides, his mother - a sister of a Theologian of the front rank Dr. George Benjamin Ekanayake, first Ceylonese to be made a Canon of the Anglican Church played no small part in the moulding of the young artist.

When the family moved to Moratuwa, young A. C. G. S. Amarasekara was admitted to the Prince of Wales College then under the principalship of J. G. C. Mendis and later at S Thomas' College, Mutwal. It was here in the days of Warden Buck, that young ‘ACGS’ revealed his potentialities as a born artist and magician.

Mudaliyar Amarasekara looks at one of his works

‘ACGC’ was encouraged to exhibit his work in open competition by Warden Stone. At the Ceylon Society of Arts Annual Exhibition of 1903, his first painting ‘The Kitten’ was awarded the first prize and this was the beginning of unfailing record of exhibits and exhibitions. His first introduction to Magic - his lifetime hobby also came while at S Thomas', when he saw a real street magician, the only kind Ceylon knew in those days. At the magical performance in aid of the S Thomas' College building fund, Warden Stone, introducing ACGS said “As in his painting, so in the art magic he deceives the eye without deluding the mind of the spectators”.

Italian renaissance

On leaving S Thomas' in 1907, he joined the staff of St Joseph's College and Ladies College as an Art Master for a brief period.

Thereafter, he was the head of the Art Division of the Technical College for a short period. For nearly six years he worked as a Draftsman and continued his major love for paintings.

Amarasekara's work is a mirror of his times. The output which has come from his untiring energy is prodigious. It is inconceivable owing to its sheer volume, that the majority of his most important works in painting alone could be enshrined in one booklet, although painting has been his major art, the versatility of his skill extended to etching, drawing, book illustration, cartooning and magic.

There was a time in Ceylon when no one was recognized as a leader unless Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekara had painted him. Indeed, he was the barometer of a man's rise in popularity in fame.

It is very often said that men of the Italian renaissance were noted for their versatility. In this sense, Amarasekara was a renaissance figure. He was a portrait painter of distinction. He stood almost unrivaled in this sphere in those days.

Good taste in colour

The most impressive portraits were those of S W R D Bandaranaike, Prime Minister (1956-1958), Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister (1960-1965), Sir John Kotelawala Prime Minister (1953-1956), Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, Governor General (1954-1962), Sir James Pieris 1929, Member of the Legislative Council, Sir Baron Jayatilaka 1931, Member of the Legislative Council, Sir James P Obeysekera 1925, Maha Mudaliyar, D S Senanayake, First Prime Minister (1948-1952). Further, one of his most impressive portraits was that of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, which was prepared for the old Legislative Council. Indeed, the greatness of Gate Mudaliyar Amarasekera was his gift of meticulous craftsmanship and draftsmanship.

He obtained the Fellowship of the British Empire and Rank of Mudaliyar in 1924. He became the Vice-President of the Ceylon Society of Arts in 1926. He was made as Gate Mudaliyar and chairman of the Fine Arts Committee of the Colombo Plan Exhibition in 1952, chairman of the Panel on Painting and Sculpture of Arts Council of Ceylon in 1954 and President of the Ceylon Society of Arts in 1959.

Undoubtedly, he was a good academic painter, an accurate draftsman, graceful composer with good taste in colour. Furthermore, what Mudaliyar Amarasekara did for art in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) would be among the unforgettable memories of those interested in Sri Lankan art.

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