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Lionel WENDT

Ceylon [Sri Lanka] 1900 – 1944

Untitled (still life with mask and statue) 1942 Sri Lanka
Photography, Photograph, gelatin silver photograph
25.1 h x 30.4 w cm
Purchased 2006
Accession No: NGA 2006.757

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  • Modernist art photographer Lionel Wendt was born in 1900 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to a prominent family of Dutch and Sinhalese origin. He qualified as a barrister in England in 1924 where he also trained as a classical concert pianist. By 1928 Wendt had abandoned law for music, developing an interest in modern art as well as avant garde music. However, by 1932, while still giving piano concert recitals, Wendt had turned to photography as his major medium of artistic expression. (His father was a judge but also an amateur photographer and had taught his son the craft.) Wendt exhibited his work in many international photography salons and had several solo exhibitions.

    Artistically Wendt was influenced in particular by surrealism and experimented with various techniques and processes, including montage and solarisation. He is principally a figurative artist and even his still-life studies have a human interest character.

    Wendt's work as a regional modernist in the Asia-Pacific region parallels the surrealist work of Australian modernist Max Dupain in Sydney during the 1930s and 1940s. Wendt's image of a classical statue and what appears to be the head of a bodhisattva is similar to works by Dupain in its strange counterpoints of objects. The image, however, also seems to refer to Wendt's European and Sinhalese heritage.

    Wendt died prematurely in 1944. A memorial publication on his work was published in the 1950s and a relatively small number of his prints survive. Wendt's negatives were destroyed by an executor. In 1963 the Lionel Wendt Art Centre was established in Colombo. It is dedicated to the performing arts, painting, sculpture and photography.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010