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A Celebrated Doyen Of The Arts In Ceylon Lionel Wendt

A central figure of cultural life and founder member of the Colombo ‘43 group of Sri Lankan artists.

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

A name that is synonymous with the arts, Lionel Wendt bequeathed a legacy to Sri Lanka that is unsurpassed. A pianist and photographer of great repute, Lionel Wendt was a founder member of the famed ‘43 Group, a coterie of talented artists who set the stage for the arts in the island. His talent in photography earned him international accolades. A Barrister from Lincolns Inn, London, Lionel Wendt’s passion for the arts usurped all others. A lasting tribute to him is the eponymous Lionel Wendt Theatre which has served Sri Lankans for generations. Lionel Wendt was the ultimate renaissance man of his era, arguably responsible for creating a modernist movement in the country.

FAMILY LINEAGE

Lionel George Henricus Wendt was born in Colombo on December 3rd 1900. He was of Dutch Burgher background. Wendt’s father was a judge in the Supreme Court and his mother, the daughter of the District Judge of Kandy. Wendt’s family were educated, affluent and socially distinguished. Lionel Wendt had only one younger brother named Harry.

EARLY EDUCATION

At the age of 5, Lionel Wendt was admitted to the Government Training College English School and later he went to S. Thomas’ College in Mutuwal which then shifted in 1918 to Mount Lavinia. When Lionel Wendt was barely 11 years old, his father died and seven years later his mother too passed rendering Lionel and Harry orphans. While he was mourning the loss of his parents he met George Keyt who later on became a great influence on Lionel Wendt. Amongst the upper echelons it was customary to send their children overseas for studies and after completing his studies at S. Thomas College, Lionel Wendt travelled to London and joined the Inner Temple to study law.

WENDT THE PIANIST

Music was an early enthusiasm and during his time as a law student, Lionel was able to join the Royal Academy of Music where he cultivated his knowledge of music. He learnt from some of the best exponents such as Oscar Beringer, Mark Hambourg and Gerald Moore. Wendt’s career in music could not prosper as he found insufficient the interpretative role of the concert pianist. He did however create opportunities for young musicians. After studying both music and law, Wendt returned to Ceylon as a Barrister with a degree in Law from the Inner Temple.

THE ARTIST WITHIN

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Series 15 Volume 5 2017

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