Birth of Lionel George Henricus Wendt on 1900.12.03 in Colombo.
“In just two decades of an active career this unique genius of a musician, photographer, litterateur, collector and percipient aficionado of the arts did more than any other man to elevate the creative spirit lying dormant at the time. He provided the impetus for a fresh and fundamental recognition of certain essentials in art, illuminated by a wholesome and realistic appreciation of the genuine values and flavor of the native landscape, its people and culture.”
Lionel Wendt: A Centennial Tribute, Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund, Colombo, 2000.
“Lionel Wendt is probably the most important person of modern Sri Lanka. He was the first person to start an anti-colonial movement in terms of Arts and Culture. He was able to facilitate people to come out with what was indigenous and by indigenous – in Lionel’s way of thinking, was not just simply enculturation – but
what was indigenous within that person. Being really one’s self.”
Fr Lionel Peiris, The Past is Another Country, Produced by Daniel Ridicki.
Lionel Wendt (1900-1944), a barrister by profession, was a pianist who played Bach, Bartok and Jazz and a photographer whose work was exhibited in 1938 in London by the makers of Leica cameras, a rare distinction accorded to few. Yet, he was much more than a brilliant artist. Widely read and having being exposed to the arts of the West, he shared his enormous knowledge with all he came into contact with, not so much as a teacher but as a mentor who strongly advocated the shedding of fixed ideas and the facades of the colonial mentality, and of looking at indigenous culture, not only of Sri Lanka but also of the east and the modern, breakaway trends of the west, and encouraged art that was born of one’s individualistic creativity rather than notions and norms. Within a short span of twenty years, he changed the course of the art and architecture, music and drama in this country. He is “The Father” of modern and contemporary art in Sri Lanka.
Born in Colombo on December 3, 1900, and educated at St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, he later read law at the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar. While in London he also studied at the Royal Academy of Music. On returning to Ceylon in 1924 he practiced law for a short time, but soon devoted himself to his enormous talents: as a musician till the early 1930s and then turned to what was to became his true obsessive métier, photography. His reputation was such that when Basil Wright was commissioned to make the famous film, Song of Ceylon, Wendt was asked to assist him. The film received the 1st prize at the Brussels International Film Festival, 1935, and Wright readily admits that the film’s great success was largely due to Wendt who also did the narration for the film.
Exposed as he was to the arts of the world, Wendt rebelled against the traditional art scene of Colombo which was rooted in colonialism, and forged a new thinking, a thinking that was indigenous to this country and exclusively individualist, without sticking to norms of any sort, other than quality and perfection. He played music that had never been heard within these shores and his photographs – masterpieces of his eye and his experimental skills in the darkroom, were far ahead of his time. He encouraged and supported the arts and artists. His was instrumental in setting up a school of Kandyan Dance and the ’43 Group, a group of artists whose paintings were modern, contemporary and Sri Lankan in their outlook and who painted according to their inner vision. He was also a virulent critique who wrote disparagingly of the arts scene of the 1920s and 1930s and passionately supported art that was true to one’s inner self.
His pioneering photo-imagery inspired a countless number of people over the years and his influence can be seen in the work of artists and architects, including that of artist Ivan Peiris and architect Minette de Silva.
“He was a brilliant conversationalist, a profound thinker, a true humanitarian
and one who made an ungrudging offering to the world.”
George Classen. Weeraratne, Neville. Applause at the Wendt, LWMF, 2013
“May this house prosper. May all honest endeavour in the service of Beauty flourish therein,
and win its reward of inward content and the Peace that is only in ceaseless effort.”
These words were written by Lionel Wendt on a scroll that he buried in the foundations of Alborado, the home he built for himself on Guildford Crescent. Alborado was demolished to make way for the Lionel Wendt Centre for the Arts. There is no record of the casket in which the scroll was buried ever being found and it probably still lies beneath the Centre where the service of Beauty continues to flourish therein.
The Lionel Wendt Centre for the Arts is owned by Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund (LWMF), a non-profit, charitable trust with no state funding, and managed by a Board of Trustees who serve in a voluntary capacity. Inaugurated in 1945 and incorporated in 1949 by an Act of Parliament, the LWMF is the official custodian of the legacy of Lionel Wendt. Established in memory of Lionel Wendt (1900-1944) for the development and promotion of the arts, the Lionel Wendt Memorial Centre was built creating spaces for exhibitions, concerts, recitals, theatrical and dance performances and providing opportunities for classes in art, music, drama and photography. Over the years the Centre has launched numerous artists and theatre personalities and artistic work and it is the benchmark venue, particularly for stage drama. Since its inception in 1953, the Centre has been instrumental in hosting the best of Sri Lanka's theatre, music and art with the longest history in the country of cutting edge and popular theatre and musical productions, and with Lionel Wendt Gallery opening in 1959 and exhibitions by the country's best artists and sculptors, the Lionel Wendt Centre has become the much-loved "home" of artists and performers. According to Applause at the Wendt (Weereratne, Nevile. Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund, Colombo, 2003), Lionel Wendt was an educator, drawing out of people their latent talents, and encouraging them in their endeavours. The Trust has continuously attempted to honour this tradition.
The LWMF at present owns the largest single collection of Lionel Wendt photographs with clear provenance, the photographs having been acquired through the bequests of Lionel Wendt's brother, Harry, and Harold Peiris, the executor of estate of the Wendt brothers. Harold Peiris, a close friend and kindred spirit of the two brothers, was an art aficionado of the same ilk as Lionel Wendt sharing many passions and social, intellectual and cultural affinities. Peiris was instrumental in setting up the LWMF and in building the Centre, contributing not only his time and energy, but also much of his own funds into seeing the vision of Lionel Wendt's residence which was a home for the arts, transformed into the island's first ever Centre for the Arts.
The three main publications on Wendt, namely, Lionel Wendt Ceylon (1950), Lionel Wendt Photographs (1994) and A Centennial Tribute: Lionel Wendt (2000) published by the LWMF, continue to be the principal texts from which all scholars working on Wendt derive their primary information. In celebration of fifty years of the Lionel Wendt theatre, Applause at the Wendt with an introduction by Neville Weereratne, who also compiled and edited the articles by those involved in theatre productions, was published by the LWMF in 2003.
Over the years, the LWMF has also organised several events to commemorate Lionel Wendt. Exhibits of a selection of his photographs are an integral part of the Annual Festival of Arts held by the Centre. More recent programmes include "Lionel Wendt & his Camera Work" by Menika van der Pooten (2010), "Appreciating Lionel Wendt through his Photography" by Lal Hegoda in Sinhala (2017), "Lionel Wendt - Nucleus of the '43 Group" by Rohan de Soysa (2019), "Lionel Wendt, Harold Peiris & the early days of the Lionel Wendt Theatre" with Lionel Peiris, Jerome de Silva, Channa Daswatte & Rajiva Wijesinha (in collaboration with the Esme Trust, 2019).
The Trustees at present are working towards enhancing the facilities provided by the Centre to include a "Black Box Theatre", a small theatre which can house about 150-200 persons. Such a theatre is of particular value for producers of Sinhala and Tamil performances who find it difficult to fill a large hall and who are also rarely sponsored. It will also encourage experimental theatre and will be an intimate theatre space which enables interaction between performers and the audience.
Also on the drawing board are plans for a Gallery to house a Permanent Exhibition of Lionel Wendt Photographs, a Research/Archival Room, a Library and a Museum.
THE TRUSTEES: LIONEL WENDT MEMORIAL FUND (LWMF)
The 1st Meeting of the Trustees took place on 01st October 1945 and the LWMF was formerly established in 1949 as a Charitable Trust by an Act of Parliament.
Founding Board of Trustees
Mr. Harold Peiris
Mr. Stanley de Sarem
Mr. Trevor de Sarem
Mr. James Naidoo
Dr. Paul E. Pieris
Mr. B.G. Thornley
Mr. L.C. van Geyzel
Current Board of Trustees
Mr. Ranil Pieris
Ms. Ramya de Livera
Ms. Anu Weerasuriya
Dr. Ms. Enoka Corea
Mr. Ranil de Silva
The Management & Production Team
Ms. Dilrukshi Wijenayake
Mr. Thushan Dias
Ms. Malshani Delgahapitiya
Archives Project Officer
Mr. Marlon Jesudason
Mr. Johann Peiris
Digital Archive Project Assistant
Mr. Denhem Hakel
Ms. Sharmini Pereira
Collection’s Curator (May-Nov 2017)
P & A Associates