Lionel Wendt exhibition a review Sensual pictures from Sri Lanka/Ceylon

Lionel Wendt might be a name you have never heard of. But with a major exhibition in photographic museum Huis van Marseille until September 3rd, you have a change to get to know him. This will be the first time that over 140 prints from various international private collections are brought together in a single retrospective exhibition.

We visited this exhibition in this charming and relaxed museum. And his pictures touched us and despite being over 60 years old still speak to us today.

Lionel Wendt, his life

Lionel Wendt was born in Colombo, then the British colony of Ceylon now the capital of Sri Lanka, in 1900-1944. He went to study law in the United Kingdom, where he also got musical training as a concert pianist. After his return in 1924 Lionel Wendt got involved into the arts scene of Ceylon. He was a promoter of the Singhalese traditional dances and was one of the big players into the avant-garde of Ceylon.

Wendt played a significant role in the development of modernist painting on Ceylon; he acted as a patron of the arts and his house was a meeting place for the ‘43 Group, the artistic movement that was a predecessor of Ceylonese modernism. For the Lionel Wendt the way of expressing his artistic views, was through the new art form of photography.  He was one of the founders of the Photographic Society of Ceylon in 1934. His first solo exhibition was in 1938 in London and two years later in Colombo.
In 1944 he died, prematurely, after a heart attack.

Homosexuality shown in a conservative paradise

The photo’s of Lionel Wendt show beautiful images of Ceylon: the landscapes, its’ culture and local people. What quickly becomes clear when you watch his work are the homoerotic undertones and overtones. Being gay was not accepted in Ceylon society. So his pictures of scantily dressed man of boys with a longing gaze were quite risqué. Like many early photographers, Lionel Wendt could get away with it by letting his models pose in academic poses. In that way he was able to express his homosexuality as a way of being artful or as an interest in ethnography.

Our review of the exhibition and the photographs

Huis of Marseille is a medium-sized photographic museum in two beautiful canal houses in the center of Amsterdam at the Keizersgracht. The pictures of Lionel Wendt are exhibited in rooms stretching out over 4 floors. Sometimes the decor of the old canal houses compete with the photographs. Despite that, we got totally immersed into the world of Lionel Wendt.
Before we visited the exhibition, we had never heard of Lionel Wendt. Afterwards we felt like we had discovered a lost genius.

Although his pictures are clearly of its’ age ( 1930’s and 1940s) the composition is often very timeless. You are not looking at historical photographs, but at beautiful compositions of man, culture and nature. And although they are all in black and white, they seem very vivid, alive and yet also ethereal. The work gets an extra dimension by the different development techniques that Lionel Wendt used. When you look at his pictures you can see where camera men and photographers in the 1980’s could have taken their inspiration from.

  • Time: Tuesday through Sunday from 11AM – 18PM
  • Price: €8,- per ticket
  • Location: Keizersgracht 401

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Huis van Marseille 52.367568, 4.884839