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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Nancy Wake - The White Mouse, 2001

Melissa Beowulf

oil on canvas (support: 180.0 cm x 140.0 cm)

Nancy Wake AC (1912–2011), war heroine, was born in New Zealand and came to Sydney with her parents at the age of two. Leaving for London before the war, she moved to Paris to work as a journalist, but in 1940, when living in Marseilles, she began driving an ambulance, delivering supplies to refugees and English prisoners, and couriering by bicycle. Between 1940 and 1942 she helped to maintain escape routes through France. The Resistance arranged her removal to England to train as a Special Operations Executive. Parachuted back into France in 1944, she took charge of some 7000 Maquisard resistance fighters, who helped sabotage German communications systems on D-day. For her incredible efforts, Wake was awarded the George Medal, 1939–45 Star, France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the British War Medal 1939–45, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, the Croix de Guerre with Star and Two Palms, the US Medal for Freedom with Palm and the Medaille de la Resistance. Her medals are on display in the Australian War Memorial.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG 2004

Accession number: 2004.20

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Melissa Beowulf (age 44 in 2001)

Nancy Wake AC (age 89 in 2001)

Subject professions

Military

Related portraits

1. Donald Horne, 2000. All Melissa Beowulf.

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber

Unbuttoning uniforms

Magazine article by Sharon Peoples, 2017

Sharon Peoples contemplates costumes and the construction of identity.

Nancy Wake portrait story video: 2 minutes
Nancy Wake portrait story video: 2 minutes
Nancy Wake portrait story video: 2 minutes
Nancy Wake portrait story video: 2 minutes

Nancy Wake

'The White Mouse'

Portrait story

A portrait story describing the amazing life of World War II resistance fighter, Nancy Wake.

Nancy Wake - The White Mouse, 2001 Melissa Beowulf
Nancy Wake - The White Mouse, 2001 Melissa Beowulf
Nancy Wake - The White Mouse, 2001 Melissa Beowulf
Nancy Wake - The White Mouse, 2001 Melissa Beowulf

Capturing the Mouse

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2004

Nancy Wake AC (b. 1912), one of the most­ decorated women of World War 2, earned the name the 'White Mouse' for her maddening ability to evade the Gestapo.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.