Self Portrait. Ivan Peries (1921-1988).

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The Lots are 129 - 139.


Martin Russell is the son of the London merchant banker Gilbert Russell, 1875-1942. Gilbert Russell was the son of Lord Arthur Russell, brother to Hastings, 9th Duke of Bedford and to the diplomat Odo Russell, later the first Lord Ampthill; they were the nephews of Lord John Russell who was twice Prime Minister.

Martin Russell acquired his interest in modern art from his mother, Maud Russell (the daughter of the German Jewish stockbroker and racehorse owner Paul Nelke). She had been painted by several English artists, including Nicholson, Orpen and McEvoy, and had sat for drawings by Matisse in l937.

Russell was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge. In 1940 he became assistant Private Secretary to Duff Cooper, the Minister of Information. In 1941 Duff Cooper became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and was sent, with his wife Lady Diana, by Churchill to Singapore to report on the co-ordination of the numerous British Government departments active in the Far East. The Japanese made landings in Malaya in December and Duff Cooper and Lady Diana returned to England in January 1942. Russell remained in Singapore to close the office.

Marin Russell was lucky enough to escape to Sumatra two days before the Japanese occupied Singapore. After working his way through Sumatra and java, he arrived in Ceylon on a river steamer on the 13th of February, 1942

He was assigned to the cypher office at the museum in Colombo by the Army command. He was introduced to Lionel Wendt where he saw his first painting by Keyt. Martin Russell recollects meeting Keyt in Colombo two years later for the first time at the inaugural exhibition of the ‘43 Group and also purchasing all the Keyts exhibited excepting one.

Subsequently posted to Lord Mountbatten’s staff in Kandy, he formed a friendship with Keyt and other members of the ’43 group. He built up an extensive collection of the early works of the members of this group.

Martin Russell may be considered as one of the patrons of the ’43 group in its formative years and helped the individual members by purchasing their paintings.

Russell returned to England in 1946 where he started to write his book The Art of George Keyt. As Keyt had moved to Bombay in 1947, Russell decided to spend more time in Ceylon and India in order to enable him to complete the book, which was published by Marg in Bombay in 1950.

Martin Russell is now selling at Sotheby’s eleven paintings from his collection. Four George Keyts from the early 1940’s all oil on canvas and seven paintings by Ivan Peries mostly from the 1940’s and one painting from 1951.

The sale is scheduled for the morning of Tuesday, 14th of October, 2003 at Sotheby’s in Bond Street.

George Keyt (1901-1993)

Born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and educated at Trinity College, Kandy, Keyt’s earliest drawings appeared in sundry school magazines and Ceylon newspapers, and in 1916 a pen and ink drawing of a head was exhibited at the Ceylon Society of Art exhibition. He started work as a professional painter in about 1927 encouraged by Lionel Wendt. His subjects were the Kandyan landscape, the people and their culture. In the 1930s he was influenced by Hindu mythology and art and Buddhism. His depiction of episodes from the Jatakas, (the narration of the Buddha’s previous lives), culminated in the representation of the life of the Buddha on the walls of the circumambulatory shrine room of the Gotami Vihara, Colombo. He was an original member of the 43 Group of Artists which earned an identity for Ceylon in international art. At the same time Keyt was also exposed to the influence of early cubist landscapes, as well as Picasso’s distortion of the human figure. It was Keyt’s unique achievement to fuse these influences into his Eastern themes.

In 1954 his work was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London by Sir Herbert Read and Sir Roland Penrose, and afterwards this exhibition traveled to the Art Institute, Rotterdam. His paintings have been displayed in art galleries in India, and in many leading capitals of the world, and are to be found in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The British Museum, London as well as various public collections in India and Sri Lanka and private collections worldwide.

  Archer Archer, W.G. India and Modern Art, London, 1959
  Keyt Foundation George Keyt Foundation, George Keyt - A Centennial Anthology, Colombo, 2001
  Russell Russell, M. George Keyt, Introduction and Biographical Note, Bombay 1950

Ivan Peries (1921-1988)

Born at Dehiwela, Ceylon, he began his painting career in the late 1930s. He was a founder member of the 43 Group of artists and he studied under the painter Harry Pieris as a result of the recommendation of Lionel Wendt, who was the inspiration and mentor of the 43 Group.

In 1946 Ivan Peries went to London to study at the Anglo-French Institute in St John’s Wood. The following year he visited Paris with Martin Russell. He then spent three years of artistic activity in Ceylon between 1950 and 1953 before returning to England. His marriage to Veronica Perry in 1955 was a happy one and there were four children. The family lived in Southend-on-Sea where Peries died in 1988.

Peries’s art reached a high point of development between the mid 1950s and 1960s. His paintings are evocations of the coastal fishing villages and landscape of his native Ceylon. He exhibited regularly in Colombo and frequently showed his work at many notable galleries in London, Oxford and Cambridge and also in Paris, Venice and Brussels. His pictures were also exhibited posthumously at the Hayward Gallery, South Bank, London in 1989. His work is included in many permanent collections including the Petit Palais, Paris, the Lionel Wendt Collection, Sri Lanka, and the Imperial War Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and has featured in several reviews, articles and books on contemporary Sri Lankan and South Asian art.

  Bandaranayake Bandaranayake, S. and Fonseka, M. Ivan Peries Paintings 1938-88, Colombo 1996