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50th Anniversary of the Lionel Wendt Theatre

The Lionel Wendt Art Centre is dedicated, as intended, to the performing arts, to drama, ballet and music and to painting, sculpture and photography. It came about through the bequests of two brothers, Lionel and Harry Wendt, who both died young within a year of each other, in 1944 and 1945 respectively.

Lionel Wendt was a barrister whose principle interests lay not in Law but in music and photography. He was a virtuoso pianist whose performances were highly regarded, and he was a dedicated teacher. As a photographer he earned the early plaudits of people in the profession; he was accorded the rare distinction of a one-man exhibition hosted by the makers of the famous Leica cameras in London in 1938. In 1943, the ’43 Group, a fellowship of distinguished Sri Lankan artists, was formed under his patronage.

Upon his death, his brother Harry and their friend, Harold Peiris, decided to commemorate Lionel Wendt in an Arts Complex. However with Harry Wendt’s early death the task of implementing it was left to Harold Peiris. He was to devote his whole life to this project, lavishing vast sums of his own money to see it completed.

The Lionel Wendt Theatre opened in December l953 with the production of Maxim Gorky’s "Lower Depths" with a cast of some of Colombo’s most accomplished amateur actors directed by Neumann Jubal.

Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s "Maname" was produced at the Lionel Wendt Theatre in l956, breaking new ground. With Chitrasena’s "Karadiya" which had its first performance here in 1961, the Wendt became the most widely-used venue for performances of plays in both Sinhala and English with the occasional production of a play in Tamil.

It has also been the place for the performance of musical concerts, Bharatha Natyam arangetrams and recitals of classical music, both Western and Indian. The Gallery has hosted innumerable exhibitions of the work of Sri Lankan artists, and the studios of the Photographic Society of Sri Lanka serve a wide variety of people, amateur and professional. Indeed, the Centre has fulfilled every aspect of its dedication as a place for the practice and performance of all the Arts.

- Neville Weereratne -