George Keyt | Sri Lankan Painter

George Percival Sproule Keyt (1901-1993) was a well-known Sri Lankan painter and poet of Dutch-Ceylonese descent. He was born in April 1901 in Kandy.
George Keyt

George Percival Sproule Keyt (1901-1993) was a well-known Sri Lankan painter and poet of Dutch-Ceylonese descent.

Early Life

George Keyt was born on 17 April 1901 in Kandy, Sri Lanka to Henry Keyt (1867-1927) who had married Evelyn Sproule (Bandara, 2018; Dalmia, 2016; Dharmasiri, 1990). He went to school at Trinity College in Kandy and began to draw from a very early age (Bandara, 2018; Dalmia, 2016; Dharmasiri, 1990). In the 1920s he embraced Sinhala-Buddhist culture due to the influence of Malwatta Viharaya which is located near his home (Bandara, 2018; Dharmasiri, 1990).

With the push of Lionel Wendt, Keyt joined the Ceylon Art Club in 1927 and began himself as a full-time painter (Dharmasiri, 1990). In 1930 he married Gladys Ruth Jansz and gave birth to two daughters Diana and Flavia (Bandara, 2018; Dalmia, 2016). However, the marriage was broken and Keyt decided to live with a lady named Pilawela Manike who later gave birth to two sons Prem and Sachin (Bandara, 2018; Dalmia, 2016). This relationship was also broken and later he had his final affection with an Indian lady Kusum Narayan (Bandara, 2018; Dalmia, 2016).

Keyt was also among the members of the Colombo '43, a group of Sri Lankan artists established in August 1943 (Bandara, 2018).


Keyt died on 31 July 1993 at the age of 92 (Dalmia, 2016). His body was placed at the National Art Gallery in Colombo for two days and then cremated in the presence of Ruth, Menike, and Kusum (Dalmia, 2016).

Painting & Poetry

The Kandyan Scene (1927), Panteru Dancers (1927), Kandyan Portrait (1927), Govindamma (1928), Udawattakele (1929) and Sangharaja Pirivena are considered some of the early works of Keyt (Dalmia, 2016; Dharmasiri, 1990). The Buddhist murals at Gothami Viharaya in Borella are considered a landmark in his career (Dharmasiri, 1990). Some of the paintings by Keyt are given below;

1) Kandyan Scene (1927) - oil on canvas
2) Victoria Drive (1928) - oil on canvas
3) Govindamma (1928) - oil on canvas
4) Pirith at the Malwatta Viharaya (1931) - oil on canvas
5) Priest reading (1932) - oil on canvas
6) Priests bathing (1932) - oil on canvas
7) Sringara Rasa (1936) - oil on canvas
8) The Lord's Departure (1936) - oil on canvas
9) Krishna and the Gopis (1936) - oil on canvas
10) Maheshvara (1938) - oil on canvas
11) Jalaja (1938) - oil on canvas
12) Draupadi (1938) - oil on canvas
13) Nayika (1942) - oil on canvas
14) The journey (1943) - oil on canvas
15) Woman with Sheaf (1943) - oil on canvas
16) Bhima and Jarasandha (1943) - oil on canvas
17) Ploughing (1944) - oil on canvas
18) Nayika and Sakhi (1944) - oil on canvas
19) Sringar (1944) - oil on canvas
20) Russell's Soul (1944) - oil on canvas
21) Still life with wildflowers (1945) - oil on canvas
22) Girl Singing (1947) - oil on tampera on masonite board
23) Lalita Ragini (1951) - oil on canvas
24) Girl with Mirror (1957) - oil on board
25) Kusum Reading (1968) - oil on canvas
26) Tilak (1974) - acrylic on canvas
27) Radha and Krishna (1974) - acrylic on canvas
28) Friends (1962) - acrylic on board

As a poet

Keyt was also a poet. In 1937 he published two collections of his poems titled "The Darkness Disrobed" and "Image in Absence" (Dharmasiri, 1990). In 1940, the English translation of "Gita-Govinda" (a 12th-century Sanskrit poem about Krishna and his love for Radha) with his own illustrations was published by Keyt (Dharmasiri, 1990).


1) Bandara, W.S., 2018. The Influence of Indian Culture, Arts, and Aesthetics on the Work of George Keyt. Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities, 41(1-2). pp.46-63.
2) Dalmia, Y., 2016. Buddha to Krishna: Life and Times of George Keyt. Routledge India. pp.1,4,10,12,18,146,163,200-201.
3) Dharmasiri, A., 1990. Section V: Painting Modern Period (1815-1950). Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series; Vol. V. Painting. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). pp.127-128.

This page was last updated on 9 May 2023

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