Paynter’s Portraits: Campbell and Senior | Sunday Observer
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Paynter’s Portraits: Campbell and Senior

5 December, 2021

In this second instalment about modern art treasures at Trinity College Kandy, I wish to discuss the portraits of Rev. John McLeod Campbell a former Principal of Trinity and Rev. Walter Senior a much celebrated Vice Principal and Chaplain of the school. These two portraits found on display at the Trinity College Library were painted by the late, great David Paynter, the Sri Lankan master artist of international fame, who was also an old boy of Trinity.

The works are oil paintings done on canvas, as stated by the Curator of the Trinity College Archives Mrs. Thilini Dias Sumanasekera. These two works have not, unlike the ‘Fraser Couplet’, (on which I wrote last week) undergone restoration to the best of my knowledge. The photos of the two portraits featured in this article were provided by Sheshan Abeysekara.

Attire and settings

It is interesting to note that in comparison to the portrait of Fraser, Paynter presents Campbelland Senior in the attire of Christian clergymen, whereas Fraser is depicted in layman clothing. And compared to the ‘Fraser Couplet’ these portraits present a scheme of noticeably brighter colours.

Campbell is portrayed in the distinct image of a vicar in ceremonial robes at the pulpit while Senior is portrayed outdoors against a mountain scenery. Though stating his identity as a Christian cleric bearing the priestly white collar, Senior is not presented as a preacher at the pulpit as Campbell.

When focusing on the background in the Senior portrait, it is noteworthy that the geography subtly echoes an aspect of imagery evoked in the Trinity College Hymn, which was composed by Senior, which opens with –“Where river, lake and untain meet. Therefore,it is apt that one may say that Senior is portrayed with an element which evokes an impression of romancing nature, which possibly bespeaks the nature of the subject who foregrounds the picture.

My maternal grandfather, the late Edmund Eramudugolla had his ‘Trinity days’ during the eras of Principals, Rev. John McLeod Campbell and Rev. R. W Stopford. On several occasions my Loku Aththa (grandfather) shared with me recollections of Campbell, emphasising how impressive the Scotsman appeared standing to a towering height of about six and a half feet.

When he stood before the pulpit at school assembly. Loku Aththa told me Campbell was of aristocratic lineage, being the son of a Scottish laird who was at the time head of the Clan Campbell. Loku Aththa recalled how Campbell would at the end of the school assembly read out the names of boarders who had received letters. His voice had been deep and bore a thick British accent. Sinhala surnames when read out by this gentleman were sometimes only marginally recognisable! Loku Aththa said that boys would at times ask one another in hushed whisper, during assembly after hearing the names that were read out, “I say, do you suppose I got a letter”?

Campbell at Kundasale

A story related to McLeod Campbell from my paternal side of the family is also among the repertoire of family stories related to Trinity. An amusing anecdote was told by my late paternal grandmother Seetha Boange. My late paternal grandfather, Edward Boange had his schooldays during the eras of Principals Fraser and Campbell, and was personally well acquainted with the latter. In the early 1950s’ Campbell had visited Sri Lanka, and my paternal grandparents had the pleasure of hosting him to dinner at their home in Kundasale when my father J. C. Boange (akaDumpy) was at the time four and a half, and had just entered grade 1 at Trinity.

My grandfather managed to get him admitted although my father was technically underage by 6 months. The reason for such an early start to his school life being, as my grandmother declared, was because as a child he was ‘exceedingly restless’ at home, and was more than a handful to handle for a young mother who also had do attend to a baby daughter who was about two years old. [My aunt Umanga Seneviratne nee Boange].

Youngest Trinitian

My grandparents who presented their children to their honoured guest, Rev. McLeod Campbell that evening had mentioned that my father had just started schooling at Trinity although four and a half. Upon hearing this Rev.Campbell had picked up my father, raised him high above, and jubilantly declared, “The youngest Trinitian in the world!”.

My grandmother said that my father who was so thrilled at being picked up and lifted to a height of about seven feet in the air, had on being placed back on the ground, immediately raised his arms up at the towering person before him and earnestly said, “Ayeth! Ayeth!”, saying in Sinhala that he wished the ‘thrill’ to be repeated!

I asked my grandmother what happened then, and she laughingly said that Rev. Campbell had happily fulfilled my father’s wish and raised high again in his hands the child, whom he declared once more to be, “The youngest Trinitian in the world!”

To be continued