Portrait of Danuta 1947


Danuta was Douglas MacDiarmid’s married lover in London during the 1940s, one of a number of highly cultured Polish war refugees he tutored in English and communed with on his first overseas stay. For Douglas, swept up in their dislocation and intensity, Danuta “was London”. After he returned to New Zealand for a year, she emigrated with her family to the United States.

Douglas MacDiarmid and Danuta sitting in Battersea Park, London, 1947. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Douglas MacDiarmid and Danuta sitting in Battersea Park, London, 1947

A journalist and academic, she was a stunning, intellectual and quite manipulative individual who came and went from Douglas’ life. Danuta caused his long-time partner Patrick more grief than any of Douglas’ other female friends after they resumed their volatile relationship 15 years later, and remained close, around arguments and personal conflicts, until her tragic death in a traffic accident in Bangkok in 1988.

Douglas MacDiarmid and Danuta at a sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park, London, 1947. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Douglas MacDiarmid and Danuta at a sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park, London, 1947.

Of the photo of he and Danuta standing at a sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park, London, 1947, MacDiarmid later told a friend the snapshot was “very circumspect since it was taken by her husband… Believe me, the book, which I’ll die regretting not having written, would not lack colour…”

MacDiarmid painted her a number of times both as a young woman and in middle-age. This is one of two portraits of Danuta from their London days. Douglas says it is the only one with “a distinct slant to caricature, the more surprising since she was strikingly beautiful, and a brilliant, charismatic personality.”

Portrait of Danuta (1947) by Douglas MacDiarmid. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Portrait of Danuta (1947) by Douglas MacDiarmid

This portrait appears on page 99 of Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid and there is another wonderful full figure painting of an older Danuta with her dog on page 264.

Currently, Danuta is a strong presence in the New Zealand Portrait Gallery exhibition Colours of a Life: Douglas MacDiarmid, staged for the release of his biography of the same name. She can be seen in this typically diverse showing of Douglas’ portrait and figurative paintings, borrowed from local collectors as milestones of a painterly life, at the gallery until 23 September 2018.

Hear biographer Anna Cahill’s thoughts about this painting.

Buy your copy of Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill (2018) online or purchase it in person from the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Wellington, Jonathan Grant Gallery in Auckland, or from all good bookstores across New Zealand. Published by Mary Egan Publishing (July 2018).

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