In January 1957 John Perceval visited Portsea and Sorrento as the houseguest of Thomas and Anne Purves, the directors of Australian Galleries, Melbourne. Inspired by the rough and irregular coastline, Perceval painted a small group of works, which he showed in April that year at Australian Galleries, in a joint exhibition with his brother-in-law Arthur Boyd.
Ocean beach, Sorrento, the major work from this series, depicts the rocky Victorian coastline under the dry heat of a summer’s day. Two of the Purves children are shown huddled in a recess in the rocks in the lower right-hand corner of the composition. After making his paintings of Williamstown in 1956, Perceval responded confidently to the subject of water, and in the splash and foam of waves on the shore his calligraphy beautifully matches his subject: paint has been applied frenetically – dribbled and scratched onto the surface – successfully conveying the turbulent water and rugged landscape.
The painting was purchased by Geoffrey Hillas in March 1957. Mr and Mrs Hillas were among the most noted collectors of contemporary Australian art of the period, and their collection included major works by Arthur Boyd, John Brack, John Perceval and Fred Williams.