Wednesday, 16 June 2004  
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Nuances of Burgher Art

by Caryl Nugara

An art exhibition titled "The Burgher Connection" was recently presented by the Dutch Burgher Union at the Lionel Wendt theatre. The array of paintings in oil and water colours had rhythmic visions of beauty that transcended time and caste barriers.

The Land in of Admiral Joris van Spilbergen in Batticaloa (1602) by C. L. Beling was a work of art that conveyed the emotions of this historical event when the Sinhalese monarch himself was portrayed welcoming the Dutch emissary and his aides.

A retinue of people, two chieftains on elephant back and villages one of them carrying a basket of betel leaves in homage were in attendance on the beach. I thought the sailing vessel anchored close by and flag of Holland revealed the sinister plan in the mind of the foreigners.

J. L. K. Van Dort's 'Kafferina' in grey and ivory depicted a group of happy burghers enjoying themselves to the music of a tinkling piano, mandolin, a small drum and a violin while a couple danced gaily. The lady swayed gracefully holding the hem of her frilled skirt as her partner whirled around her. There certainly was merriment in that party of long ago.

The other painting "en Route to Kandy" was in detail. Officers in colonial regalia with their armaments rested awhile around Dawson Monument, Kadugannawa. The artist showed his concentration even in the gold epaulettes and emblems on their uniforms.

The exhibit "Vacant Chair" was in sombre colours of beige, ochre and grey. In a wide Dutch stylized room there stood a writing desk, tomes and stacks of paper, shelves of manuscripts, inkwell with quill-pens and a well ornamented chair. This painting had a melancholy aura and made me feel the loss of someone who had indulged in study.

Grace Van Dort's canvas of "Lake Road, Colombo" was inspiring. She had captured the pristine environment of her time. Bright red flamboyant trees and brilliant swathes of rich grass skirted the lake where people relaxed.

A bullock cart leisurely wended its people relaxed. A bullock cart leisurely wended its way, a "basket woman" and a "pingo man" went along the quiet road.

Ernest Van Dort's "View of Mt Lavinia" was in shades of sunset colours. In the background the famous white hotel of the colonial era stood elevated. A solitary woman sitting on a rock gazed at a catamaran on the beach. The sea in little brush strokes of aqueous bluish green and foamy white unfolded the beauty of the ocean.

Sunset colours

The other decorative painting had an exquisite blend of colours. It was titled "Fisherman at Dehiwela." A lonely man sat patiently on the edge of the sea-share fishing. He was encircled by the reflection of bushes in the water.

In dark, phantom shades of green and browny yellow W. W. Beling gave us a "View of Dutch Canal". It depicted the charm of turgid yet placid waters, greenery and tender coconut palms. The "padda" house boat almost hiding in the curve of the canal was romantic. "Morning on Tuankai Lake" awakened from the night's slumber was aesthetically beautiful.

Of E. B. Koch's presentations I fancied the portrait "Artist's Neice" in pensive mood. Dull grey and blue pinafore and soft, white bonnet predominated but the red shawl and beaded necklace enhanced the charm of a young woman.

Bertha Jansz's beguiling "Village Boutique" overflowed with nostalgia. I had a wistful yearning for that boutique of the past with its slatted entrance, earth-brown tiles and green eaves. I charming little loft with its window was there and the market came alive with the old fashioned tea-maker and his boiler, bananas, bottles of sweets, betel and food on crude shelves. Some village folk were relishing hot tea and perhaps gossip.

Vast expanse

Douglas Raffel's "Gunners Quoin" was an illustration of a vast expanse in varying shades of mauve. There were little marshy patches dreaming in the calm water, under extends of scudding clouds and birds flying across the sky. A few of them nestled in a tall, angular tree.

Raffel's Seascape was spell binding and a dark illusion of fear pervaded. The intense black, sullen pigments lent a prediction of an ominous storm.

The angry sea rolled and crashed with crested waves beneath layers of black cumulus clouds hanging in the sky.

"Garden of the Terraces - Matara" was Margreta de Kretser's painting. Her cobbled pathway had flower-beds in profusion. She had used nuances of khaki, green and brown for the strong wall around.

Geoff Beling's "Landscape from Layard's Road" was that of a residential area with a patch-work of houses, low parapets and sturdy trees with enormous leaves draping heavily.

Ian Cooke's "Patharana Cave" gave me a view of R. L. Spittle's jungle scene from the novel Savage Sanctuary.

With the interest of a nature lover Christine Wilson portrayed the "Watch Hut" perched high up on stilts between the thorny branches of a tall tree. Spiky bushes and tangled undergrowth lay as far as the eye could see.

Illusionism was George Claessen's technique in his painting "Ballet Fragment": It was composed of whispering, whirling, fantasizing movements in various colours of blue.

The wind-blown painting "Fishing Vadiya" skirting the very edge of the sea was Imsy de Silva's contribution. Waves rushed on to the sands in ethereal blue, green and white coloration, swaying palms and make-shift huts suggested the danger that lie for our fisher-folk.

Blue skies

The beautiful hill country environment was conveyed in Imsy's "Haputale Range" Colours mixed and mingled to feature the overture of blue skies and craggy, contoured mountains. A faraway factory nestled above glorious, green tea bushes and colourful tea pluckers enhanced the loveliness of her painting.

Myles Christoffelsz's art titled "Waterfall" surged down amidst dark crags. Like a bridal veil in glowing purity it flowed gracefully through the darkness of a forest.

"Building in Galle Fort" by George Bevan had intrinsic lines, design and form. The solid columns, walls, steps and entrance captured at an angular stance gave depth to this piece of art. Details of the colonial lantern - lights on ornamented wall brackets indicated the refinement and elegance in houses during that era.

A pronounced piece of art was "Three Women". I realized that the painter (Bevan) was aware of other ethnic groups who lived in harmony. They were characterized by their dark complexion, red "pottu", jasmines tucked into jet-black tresses, gold jewellery and vivid sarees.

There were two contrasting landscapes of Ivor Baptiste. "The Fleet Comes in" was cheerful. The different method of painting in "The Jungle Brook" overflowed with dark foliage, hillocks and overgrown trees hiding a dear little brook winding along its own secretive way.

Jean Arasanayagam's "Flower Vase" was a pretty paisley with multi-coloured flowers in light and fresh shades.

There was a freshness of nature's bouquet in this illustration complete with wild, scarlet berries on slender stems, leaves and thistles.

The 'Fruit Pickers' by Sybil Keyt was attractive. Three almost identical women in blue sarees languished side by side with baskets of fruit sitting beneath a canopy of dark trees with dark green leaves.

Anthea Senaratne's glowing "Kandy Perahera" had all the grandeur of an oriental pageant.

It was resplendent with torch bearers, drummers, people in the background and two elephants draped in bright studded cloth carrying the tooth relic. This painting radiated a luminescence and conjured up the splendour of this event.

Expressions of the African mood were predominant in Rosalie Ann Modder's prismatic paintings namely "Dancers", "The Wedding Party" and "Market Place". They almost came alive in startling psychedelic pigments which produced a remarkable vision of happiness and enjoyment among the characters portrayed.

Rajhu's "Still Life" scenes transported me to a world of meditation.

On a mat rested the statuette of a god, mendicant's beads, a monk's fan and two burning joss-sticks in a clay pot.

The other was that of a brushwood broom resting against an old door-post. Tranquillity pervaded these paintings. So this exhibition in spectrums of colour and various shades unfolded the beauty of our island and echoed sentiments in the hearts of Burgher artists.

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