Douglas Portway (1922 - 1993)
‘Ibiza’, 1964



oil on canvas, 110 x 110cm

signed and dated bottom centre ‘Portway 64’ and inscribed with the title and date on the reverse

Douglas Portway studied art in Johannesburg in the 1940s, and won an award in 1952 to study art in the United States. His early exposure to the work of the American avant-garde set him apart from other young South African painters who studied in Paris and London. His paintings were included in the South African entry to the Venice Biennale in 1956, which made him one of the first of his generation to be selected. In 1957 Portway decided to leave South Africa and, after travelling in Europe, he settled on the island of Ibiza where he lived from 1959 to 1966. Yet he retained close links with South Africa and exhibited regularly.

This oil came from the collection of Joe Wolpe, his Cape Town dealer for many years. Wolpe referred to Portway as ‘the painter’s painter’ (WA Hofmeyr, ‘Portway … man of the hour’, Artlook, June 1967), an observation confirmed by Walter Battiss who, opening Portway’s major exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 1967, described him as ‘a lone artist, going his own way, who used paint as it should be used’ (‘Technical wizardry’, Pretoria News, 13 April 1967). This work fuses abstract, nebular shapes and figurative elements – the female nude being one of the few subjects that he ever sought to represent. With the intense shadows and subtle sgraffito markings of the surface treatment, the elements combine to convey, above all, a deep sensuality that Portway may have found in the languid island life on Ibiza.

Another work with the same title (1963) is illustrated in Inga Gilbert, Reflections on paintings of Douglas Portway, Edinburgh, 1993, cat no 3.


© 2005 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.