Hla, M.T. (U Tun Hla) - (1874-1946, Burmese.)
The Burmese artist U.M.T. Hla (U is the Burmese approximation for Mr), was a watercolour and oil painter who painted in the Western style. M.T. Hla was the signature he used for signing his paintings, which was apparently derived from the initials in the name Maung Tun Hla.
In the early 1900s, Hla encountered the British artist Sir Gerald Kelly (1879–1972) who travelled to Burma to paint and who later established his reputation in England largely through his landscapes of Burma and portraits of Burmese dancers and ladies. Gerald Kelly subsequently became a painter of note in Britain, becoming Official Portrait Artist to the King and Queen during World War II and becoming President of the Royal Academy of Art from the 1949 to 1954. Hla received traditional instruction in Western painting techniques and undertook commissions to paint banners and other decorations associated with Burmese Buddhist celebrations and ceremonies. It is likely that most of the artist’s works were acquired by colonial administrators and their families and brought back to England and Scotland in the early twentieth century.
It would appear that very few of the artist’s works have survived in Asia. Several paintings by M.T. Hla are found in the collection of the National Museum, Myanmar. Ranard observes that twelve of the artist’s paintings survive in the collection of Denison University (Ohio). (Ranard reproduces five M.T. Hla paintings in his book.) M.T. Hla is historically important in the development of modern Burmese painting. His work represents a break with traditional styles of painting and heralds the evolution of a vibrant and dynamic painting scene in Burma which lasts to this day.
Khin Muang Nuynt et al, Myanmar Painting: From Worship to Self-Imaging, EvoHeritage, 2006.
Ranard, A., Burmese Painting: A Linear and Lateral History, Silkworm Books, 2009.