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An Investigation of the Appearance of Surrealism in 20th Century Sri Lankan Paintings by Namal Avanthi Jayasinghe

An Investigation of the Appearance of Surrealism in 20th Century Sri Lankan Paintings by Namal Avanthi Jayasinghe

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"Noticing the monk's enthusiasm, Bose encouraged him to try his hand at painting. Now, drawing upon his imagination for subjects, Manjusri began to paint. Bose was surprised at his talent, seeing in his pictures an association with the works of artists of the modern schools of painting in the West.

On vacation in Ceylon in 1934, Manjusri put his newly developed artistic ability to test. He began to make copies of temple murals, first at the Sunandarama Vihara at Ambalangoda where he had seen and been impressed by a painting of dancing figures. Living in the temple compound, he spent twenty-one days tracing the painting, recording details and making careful notes of broken or destroyed portions, and he took another month reproducing the work in color. He returned to Santiniketan with copies of seven murals. Tagore, who had taken up painting at the age of sixty eight, was having an exhibition of his work at the school. Seeing Manjusri's copies he insisted that one side of the exhibition room be reserved to display these temple murals. The reproductions of the temple paintings caused a sensation at Santiniketan, revealing a previously unknown treasure trove of Sri Lankan religious art. Although historians were aware of the 5th century Sinhalese wall paintings at Sigiriya, which were roughly contemporary with the period of the great cave paintings of Ajanta, little if anything was known of the Sri Lankan temple murals created during the period of Buddhist revival in the 18th and 19th centuries. These paintings, appreciated locally more for their moral and religious teachings than for their artistic merit, were crumbling away due to neglect and decay, or were being over painted by zealous benefactors who wished to modify temple interiors. The 18th and 19th century murals represented a continuation of the traditions of Buddhist art started under royal patronage by trained artists in earlier centuries. They had been executed by rural artists who interpreted the stories of the life of the Buddha and the Jataka tales that depicted events in his previous births, with accretions of contemporary life and folk traditions. Harry Pieris, the Ceylonese Director of the Tagore School of Art, became interested in Manjusri's copies, both as works of art and as priceless replicas of a vanishing tradition of religious art. When Manjusri wanted to present his mural copies to Santiniketan, Pieris told him that the works should go back to Sri Lanka and bought the paintings from him for that purpose, offering him a sizeable sum of money. Pieris continued to encourage him in his study of art and sponsored his trip to Darjeeling to see and purchase Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhist art objects available there."


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