The Cape Artist, James Thackwray has often been compared to his contemporaries and friends such as Alexander Rose-Innes, Maurice von Essche, Professor Edward Roworth, and Professor Alfred Krenz. However, he never achieved the recognition which many feel he deserved, mainly due to his quiet unassuming manner and his failure to conform to the norms of the society in which he was to paint.
His early work included many portraits which he painted with skill and sensitivity, capturing the emotions of his subjects, as can be seen in the hauntingly beautiful portrait of the “Cape Malay Sisters”.
In 1949, he married Freda Laurence, with whom he had 5 children: two daughters and three sons. The family lived on a small-holding in Strickland near Bellville and the new surroundings provided an additional dimension to his art. He began painting people in their environment, capturing their daily lives as they worked in the ﬁelds and vineyards of the Cape.
During the turbulent years of the 1950’s and the beginnings of apartheid, a number of black artists emerged, painting scenes of township life. They tried to capture the events and the turmoil unfolding in the country. As a white Cape artist, Thackwray was out of sync with the thinking of the white artists of that era. He continued to paint the Cape Malay people, and in particular, those of District Six and the Bo-Kaap.
The catastrophic declaration of District Six by the apartheid government on 11 February 1966 as a purely “white” area, saw Thackwray portray much of the area in his art. His paintings have a haunting quality which evidences the pain and suffering of the people. They remain a reminder of what people endured under the government of the day and the manner in which they managed to cope.