Douglas Portway was born in Johannesburg and began painting and exhibiting in his native South Africa. After his first solo exhibition in 1945 his reputation grew to such an extent that he became the first South African to be awarded a travel grant from the Institute of International Education, which took him to the USA in 1952. In 1956 he was chosen to take part in the Venice Biennale and the following year he left South Africa for good and travelled to Europe, finally settling in Ibiza in 1959 and worked there for seven years. During this period he had solo exhibitions at the Drian Gallery in London, as well as in Paris, Ibiza and South Africa.
In 1967 Portway moves to St. Ives in Cornwall and begins an association with the Marjorie Parr Gallery there and in London. From 1972 he also is able to buy a property in the Dordogne and spends part of the year there and the rest in St. Ives before selling up in Cornwall during the 1980s.
His work is to be found in the collections of the Tate Gallery, V&A Museum and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art along with many other galleries in this country, Europe and South Africa.