To Index


As it might be surmised, the Buddhist paintings of the early 20th century constitute an impressive diversity in styles as can be seen from the temple murals of the time.  Several centuries of colonial domination of the country, and the resultant exposure to various art traditions and also the rise of nationalism and the quest for an authentic art tradition can be considered as the root cause for this dynamism in art styles in the Buddhist mural tradition of Sri Lanka.  The George Keyt murals at Gotami Vihara, the Solius Mendis murals at Kelaniya Raja Maha Viiharaya and the 

Mahamaya's Dream. 1940. Mural from Gotami Vihara

numerous murals by M.Sarlis, all done during the first 4decades of the 20th century, are the best examples to illustrate this diversity in styles.

Murals of Gotami Vihara, painted in the 1930s by one of Sri Lanka's most important modernist painters presents a Buddhist mural done in a style that has successfully synthesized Pablo Picasso's cubism, the linear beauty of Anuradhapura paintings and the sensuality of traditional Indian sculpture into a sensual and sumptuous artistic language.

Three copies of the Visuddhimagga being present-ed to the Sangaraja of the Mahavihara. Wall painting by Solias Mendis.  Kelaniya Rajamahavihara. 1932 - 1946

Murals of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, painted by Solius Mendis in the late 1930s and early 1940s was an attempt to revitalize the Sinhalese classical art tradition of Anuradhapura.  The result however is not a reinvention of the classical tradition but an amalgamation of several Indian, and European visual idioms into a style that recalls the classical naturalism of Anuradhapura.

M.Sarlis Buddhist murals and his lithographic prints on Buddhist 

themes can be considered as the first formulation of a popular tradition of Buddhist art in Sri Lanka, out side the ethos of the feudal elites and the urban bourgeoisie.  His was an art form that did not look back to Kandy or Anuradhapura for artistic inspirations.  His style, which is largely of borrowings from western naturalism in a somewhat 'folk' manner, constituted an art language that is interesting and 'beautiful' in its own way.  His style had the basics of any 'popular art tradition' of the 20th century: the glitter, and the meretriciousness.