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
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
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.