(1886 – 1964 )
Dorothy Moss Kay

Post War

Dorothy Elvery was born at Greystones, County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1886. At the age of 14 she began studying figure painting at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and the Royal Hibernian Academy School, and later in Paris. Her work was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy and Young Irish Artists Exhibition in 1902.

In 1910 she came to South Africa to marry Dr. Hobart W. A. Kay (FRCS) who later became District Surgeon in Port Elizabeth. The couple settled in Port Elizabeth, became very active in artistic affairs and were founder members of the Eastern Province Society of Arts and Crafts (1918) later known as the E.P. Society of Fine Arts. Dorothy Kay regularly participated in this society’s group shows. She was represented in the British Empire Exhibition in London in 1924 and in the same year exhibited again in London and Jamaica, Canada and Australia. In this year, too, she was elected a member of the Royal British and Colonial Society of Artists.

Two years later, after exhibiting at the Dominion Artists’ Exhibition in London where Queen Mary purchased one of her etchings “Romance”, Dorothy Kay began illustrating stories for the “Outspan” magazine. Over the years she produced more than 2000 black and white illustrations. This discipline, she later wrote, was to teach her much about figure compositions.

In 1940 the Union Government commissioned her to paint war subjects, and several other commissions followed, such as the two large mural panels for General Motors South Africa, a mural for the SABC in Grahamstown and murals for the Reserve Bank, Port Elizabeth. Although the body of her work embraces a wide variety of subject matter and stylistic approaches it is as a portrait painter in the academic tradition that Dorothy Kay is best known. Throughout her career she was commissioned to paint numerous portraits of dignitaries and private citizens, but it is in the self-portraits that her fine sense of humour is most evident. What is extraordinary about Dorothy Kay is the change in her work from 1946 onwards at the age of 60. Art historians and critics have variously described the change as hyper realistic or bordering on surrealistic with metaphysical tendencies.  Dorothy Kay died in Port Elizabeth on 13 May 1964 at the age of 77.


Participated in group exhibitions in South Africa, the UK, Yugoslavia, West Germany, Italy, Brazil and Rhodesia


First of several solo exhibitions at St. George’s Hall, Grahamstown


South African section, Empire Exhibition, Wembley


Dominion Artists’ Exhibition, London


Royal Academy


van Riebeek Tercentenary Exhibition, Cape Town


Retrospective Exhibition, Eastern Province Society of Arts and Crafts


First Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art


Second Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art

South African Graphic Art Exhibition in Yugoslavia and Munich


São Paulo Biennale (Graphic Arts)


Third Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art

Venice Biennale (Graphic Arts)


Retrospective Exhibition, Port Elizabeth

‘South African Women Artists’, South African National Gallery, Cape Town


Prestige Retrospective Exhibition, Pretoria Art Museum and Durban Art Gallery

Republic Festival Exhibition, Pretoria


‘SA Printmakers’, South African National Gallery, Cape Town


Prestige Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery, Cape Town

Museums & Galleries

  • South African National Gallery, Cape Town
  • Durban Art Gallery
  • Pretoria Art Museum
  • King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth
  • William Humphreys Gallery, Kimberley
  • Albany Museum, Grahamstown
  • Queenstown Art Gallery
  • African Museum, Johannesburg
  • South African National War Museum, Johannesburg

Private Collections

  • Various international countries
  • South Africa
Numerous portraits of public figures, including mayoral portraits for Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, Graaff-Reinet and Grahamstown


Mural for Climax Rock Drilling Company, Empire Exhibition


Mural for Reserve Bank, Port Elizabeth


Mural for General Motors, Port Elizabeth (now at Port Elizabeth Technikon)


SABC, Grahamstown

Featured Artwork