Born into a prosperous Ceylonese family of Indo-Dutch origin, George Keyt spent his childhood in an environment where Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and European cultures commingled, a premise that would later appear in his work.
A self-taught artist, Keyt’s success was unparalleled with many celebrities such as actor Vivian Leigh, writer Evelyn Waugh, poet Pablo Neruda, and photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others, visiting him, his art, his exhibitions.
At the age of twenty-six, Keyt started painting seriously, and through the 1930s he depicted episodes from the Buddhist Jataka tales, even representing Buddha’s life and times on the walls of the circumambulatory shrine room of Gothami Viharaya in Borella, Colombo. Keyt’s attraction to the European style—first Cezanne, and later cubism, especially Picasso’s crisp lines and structural rendering of forms—added an impetus to his Puranic and Buddhist narratives, and Indian erotic iconography, which he often depicted in his art.
A member of ’43 Group, a modern art collective formed in Colombo by a group of young, pro-independence painters who were committed to promoting a Sri Lankan form of modernism, Keyt’s commitment to free expression gave his art its greatest merit: courage. Art critic Rudy von Leyden, reviewing Keyt’s works in the 1940s, noted: ‘If he speaks the language of Picasso, he does so in a rich and meaningful idiom of his own.’ Because of his interest in Hindu mythology and multiple visits to India, his work is as well regarded here as in his native Sri Lanka.
‘Keyt has lived and travelled in India. Those lines are the curves and circle of Indian statuary’
The ‘Manifestations’ series of 20th Century Indian Art, Editions VI, VIII, IX, X
DAG New Delhi and Mumbai, 2011-14
‘Indian Portraits: The Face of a People’
DAG, New Delhi, 2013; Mumbai, 2014
‘India Modern: Narratives from 20th Century Indian Art’
DAG, New York, New Delhi, Mumbai, 2015; Chandigarh, 2017
‘The Naked and The Nude: The Body in Indian Modern Art’
DAG, New Delhi, 2013; Mumbai, 2015
‘Primitivism and Modern Indian Art’
DAG, Mumbai, 2019; New York, 2020; New Delhi, 2021-22