According to literary evidence, Sri Lanka is an island nation with a distinctive history of painting and sculpture that dates to about 3rd century BC. The painting and sculpture education and practices of historical Sri Lanka were grounded on Buddhist temples and rituals. These artistic skills were taught and led by specific schools or families known as Gurukula/Siththara Parampara. The skilled craftsmen, for instance, belonged to a particular caste based on their duties of craftsmanship. The naturalistic painting of the West was introduced to Sri Lanka and India during the British colonial period through Technical Colleges. With the establishment of Ceylon Technical College, Maradana in 1893, the knowledge and use of western painting techniques and stylgradually became popular in the country. This is proven by a study of practical reports examined during this period. However, under colonial education, naturalistic painting was introduced to Sri Lanka after about five years it was introduced to India. Sri Lankan Dr. Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), a pioneering philosopher and interpreter of Indian art and culture, published his first book on Sri Lankan craft and craft schools named ‘Medieval Sinhalese Art’ in 1908. It was printed by the Kelmscott press in London. This was owned by William Morris (1834-1896), the founder of the ‘Art and Craft movement’ in England. Hence, in 1896 the same year he passed away, as a tribute to the contribution made by William Morris, craft subjects were introduced under the supervision of the colonial government educational system in the Art Course by Ceylon Technical College. These subjects were later conducted with the collaboration of the Department of Small Industries of Ceylon in 1933.

William Morris

William Morris wearing an Arts’s Smock

Alfred Bartlam

Alfred Bartlam


Alfred Bartlam (1869 - ?), a holder of certificates from the Royal College of Art, London and the Art and Science Department, London, is recorded as the first person to be appointed by the United Kingdom to Ceylon to commence local art education. After being recruited by the colonial office in London in May 1900, Bartlam began his career as the first drawing instructor of the Ceylon Technical College, Maradana in 1902. He was also a technological certificate holder from the City and Guilds of London Institute. Apart from teaching at the technical college in Colombo, he also served later as the secretary of the Ceylon Society of Arts. British Painter Charles Freegrove Winzer (1886 - ?) is the pioneer and patron of the Modern Art in Sri Lanka. He was appointed as the chief art inspector of the local Department of Education in 1920. Henceforth, he served at this post for 11 years until 1932. Winzer was equipped with a profound knowledge, interest and understanding of various trends in the field of painting. He was responsible in identifying and promoting J.D.A. Perera (1897-1967) and W.J.G. Beling (1967-1992), the local pioneers of tertiary and secondary level art education in Sri Lanka. These two individuals are considered as the most accurate and brilliant choices of C.F. Winzer. He was also the founder of the Modern Art Movement in Sri Lanka, the ‘43 Group’.

Winzer, Charles Freegrove, 1886-1940; Music for Ganesha

Music for Ganesha by C.F. Winzer Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales


Hence, with these developments, the Arts and Crafts Department of Ceylon Technical College rapidly grew owing to the employment avenues opened to the art students and teachers both in arts and crafts schools as well as in craft centres. In the year 1943, for example, the Department produced 30 teachers for arts and crafts. In 1946, a board of moderators was appointed to design syllabi and to attend to various issues in eight different craft courses. After the Second World War, in 1949, the Department of Arts and Crafts of Ceylon Technical College was shifted to the Heywood building situated at Horton Place, Colombo 07, under the supervision of the painter J.D.A. Perera. This is where the Faculty of Visual Arts of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts (UVPA) is located today. The Department of Arts and Crafts of Ceylon Technical College at Colombo 07, was separated from the Ceylon Technical College in 1952 and was upgraded as the ‘Government Institute of Arts’. Thereafter, indigenous dance and North Indian Music courses were introduced as was the vision of the then Head of the Institute, painter J.D.A. Perera. Until then, indigenous dance was practised under the school of Gurukula and Kalayathana. Since indigenous music was not identified as scholarly during this time North Indian Music was introduced to the Institute instead. Panibharatha (1920-2005) and Lionel Edirisinghe (1913-1988) were appointed as course masters for Dance and Music respectively.

J.D.A. Perera with Laurette moments before the commencement of the painting

J.D.A. Perera with Laurette moments before the commencement of the painting
‘Laurette’ by S. Chandrajeewa - 2013


In 1953, the Government Institute of Arts was renamed as the ‘Government School of Fine Arts’ and was announced as an independent Department under the Ministry of Education. It provided teaching facilities for drawing, painting, sculpture, crafts, music and dance. All disciplines - painting, sculpture, craft, music and dance - were conducted at Horton Place, Colombo 7, premises. However, music and dance courses were shifted to Albert Crescent at Colombo 07, due to lack of space. J.D.A. Perera was the first principal of the Government School of Fine Arts. Painter David Paynter was the second principal (1900-1975) of the school followed by the painter Stanly Abeysinghe (1914-1994). At the beginning, the medium of instruction for all the visual art subjects at the Government College of Fine Arts was English. Its founder, J.D.A. Perera, commenced a Department of Sinhala after 1952 to conduct art courses in Sinhala medium. He recruited local art teachers and artisans as lecturers for this purpose. In 1960, the Government College of Fine Arts was again renamed as the ‘Sri Lanka National Institute of Arts’ under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. In 1965, the arts and crafts section at the Horton Place, Colombo 7, was upgraded as an independent college, named as ‘Government College of Arts and Crafts’ under the Ministry of Education. The veteran painter Stanley Abeysinghe was appointed as the Principal of the Government College of Arts and Crafts. The music section was upgraded as the ‘Government College of Music’ and veteran musician Lionel Edirisinghe (1913-1988) was appointed as its Principal. The dance section was also upgraded as the ‘Government College of Dance and Ballet’ and veteran dancer Panibharatha (1920-2006) was appointed as its Principal.



Lionel Edirisinghe

Lionel Edirisinghe


In 1973, two experts, Prof. H.G. Hanmante, Dean, Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts, Bombay and Prof. Palsikar, Dean, Sir JJ School of Fine Arts, Bombay from India were invited by the Government of Sri Lanka under the ‘Colombo Plan’ to reorganize the Government College of Arts and Crafts. However, no experts were consulted or invited to restructure the Government College of Music and Government College of Dance and Ballet. Based on the report of the Indian experts, the ‘Institute of Aesthetic Studies’ (IAS) was created in 1974 by the amalgamation of the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Government College of Music, Government College of Dance and Ballet and Ramanathan Academy, Jaffna. The IAS consisted of three departments; the Department of Art and Sculpture, the Department of Music and the Department of Dance and Ballet. The famous Sri Lankan poet Mahagama Sekara was appointed as the first Head of the Department of Art and Sculpture. While the veteran musician W.D. Amaradeva became the first Head of the Department of Music, the veteran dancer Panibharatha was the first Head of the Department of the Dance and Ballet. The First Director of IAS was Dr. Hema Rathnayake, a historian from the University of Colombo. IAS was affiliated to the University of Kelaniya in 1980. Meanwhile, Ramanathan Academy was separated from IAS and was affiliated to the University of Jaffna. In the same year ‘Sripali Kalayathanaya’, Horana, an institute for aesthetic subjects, was absorbed into IAS. In 1993, however, Sripali Kalayathanaya, was separated from IAS and was affiliated to the University of Colombo. Twenty-nine (29) directors were appointed to the IAS from 1974 to 2004 spanning 30 years. Except for the writer of this article none of the appointed directors were experts on visual or performing art stream. The writer was appointed as the 27th director of the Institute and served from February 2001 to September 2002. The last director of IAS, the 29th was Keerthirathne Herath, an officer of Sri Lanka Administrative Service.

A special committee was appointed to the Institute of Aesthetic Studies (IAS) to investigate its education and the structural system. The committee is comprised of three members; Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake, Prof. Thissa Kariyawasam and Prof. Walter Marasinghe.

On the recommendation of the report, it was declared by the EXTRAORDINARY Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka no 1400/24 08.07.2005 that the University of the Visual and Performing Arts to be established with effect of 1st July 2005 under the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978 for the purpose of “providing promoting and developing higher education in the branches of learning of Visual and Performing Arts and for advancing these arts to achieve standards of excellence in relation to their aesthetic and applied dimensions”.

Prof. Sarath Amunugama became its first Vice Chancellor. He is a French language scholar from the University of Kelaniya. He introduced the university system to the newly established UVPA. Prof. Jayasena Kottegoda, a veteran dancer in low-country dancing, appointed in 2008 was the second Vice Chancellor of the University. Third Vice chancellor to assume duties in 2014 was Prof. Ariyarathna Kaluarachchi, also an expert in low country dancing. His term ended on 20th October 2017.

The first Chancellor of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts was Dr. Lester James Peiris and Pandith Dr. W.D. Amaradeva became its second Chancellor. The current Chancellor is Sangeeth Nipun Prof. Sanath Nandasiri.

This year (2018) we mark the 13th anniversary of our university with a history of 125 years of visual art education and 66 years of dance, music and performing art education in tertiary level. In par with the vision of the Ministry of Higher Education in Sri Lanka ‘Beyond the Horizon - 21st century knowledge hub in Asia’, now we face the challenge to actively take part in the knowledge hub in the disciplines of Visual arts, Performing arts and Art research.

Snr. Prof. Sarath Chandrajeewa
Vice Chancellor,
University of the Visual and Performing Arts,
Sri Lanka.
February 2018