Ceylon 1974 by Douglas MacDiarmid


Ceylon VIIIA 3 is an oil painting by Douglas MacDiarmid dated 1974. Also known as ‘Girls after Bathing’, this languid scene was painted from sketches of daily living, made during a 1973 visit to the island state, then newly named Sri Lanka.

A New Zealand-born expatriate painter, MacDiarmid spent a month in Sri Lanka at the time, travelling extensively with a group of students and catching up with an old friend working for the international Red Cross organisation. He notes in his painting register: “Beautiful girls in wet saris and brighter water”.

Ceylon VIIIA 3 1974 by Douglas MacDiarmid. Oil, 76x56cm. Private collection, New Zealand. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Ceylon VIIIA 3 1974 by Douglas MacDiarmid. Oil, 76x56cm. Private collection, New Zealand.

However, peaceful as it appeared, the unhurried pace of village life, lush jungle and paddy fields hid both poverty and an ever-present undercurrent of violence that was to mar the country’s development for decades.

MacDiarmid has always been in the thrall of the human form. Catching sight of these lovely young women would have been enough to stop him in his tracks to unsuspectingly capture their grace and innocent charm. Those vibrant blush colours hint at the relentless tropical heat that would have driven his subjects to cool off.

And he has had the great good fortune to have visited many parts of the world in the days before mass tourism, package tours, at a time when travelling from country to country was a slow passage of days not hours. MacDiarmid’s travel diaries reflect an adventurous life, seeking out other cultures and antiquities off the beaten track as holiday destinations before they were inevitably ‘discovered’ and spoiled by progress.

The painting was given to his old university friend, the late New Zealand diplomat James Weir and his wife Mollie, decades ago and remains in the family. In what was probably its first public appearance, Ceylon VIIIA 3 was exhibited in Auckland during the Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid book launch in July 2018.

Ceylon VIIIA 1974 featured in a one-night exhibition of works contributed by a circle of friends on 18 July 2018 at the Auckland launch of Douglas MacDiarmid’s biography, Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid, written by his niece Anna Cahill and held at the The Pah Homestead, in collaboration with the Wallace Arts Trust.

MacDiarmid’s biography is available to purchase here, at selected galleries or from all good bookstores throughout New Zealand.

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