Skip to main content

We’re thrilled to welcome you back to the Gallery from Saturday 6 June. Please see what we need you to do first.

Menu

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.

Double Portrait: Vida and Marie Breckenridge (study), 1999

Nancy Borlase

oil on canvas (frame: 47.5 cm x 37.5 cm, support: 45.3 cm x 35.3 cm)

Nancy Borlase (1914-2006), artist, was born in New Zealand, and had to be dug out of the wreckage when an earthquake struck Napier in late 1931. In Christchurch, she began art lessons and worked as a fortune teller to make a living; to raise the fare to Sydney, where she wanted to study art, she made paper lampshades. Arriving in the city in 1937, she studied sculpture at East Sydney Technical College, modelling for artists to pay her rent, but soon turned to painting. In Melbourne, she co-led an artists’ models’ strike for better pay and conditions. Having married unionist Laurie Short, she worked as a cleaner and waitress at the Trocadero in Sydney. A trip to the USA with Short in 1956 enabled her to see the work of Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko, and on her return to Sydney she painted many vibrant abstracts. One of these was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1960, the year of her first solo exhibition at Macquarie Galleries. In 1988 the same gallery purchased a self-portrait she had painted in 1943; in 1994, she received a substantial ‘meritus award’ from the Australia Council. Portraits she painted in the 1990s, subjects of which included the socialist activist Issy Wyner and the seaman Pat Mackie, were characteristically flat and graphic, almost cartoonish in style. She finally took out the Portia Geach Memorial award with just such a work, a double portrait of Sydney sisters, Vida (1920-1996) and Marie (1920-1996) Breckenridge, who were both artists and researchers; Marie was also a pilot. Borlase said of her life as a painter, ‘It has been a long, slow haul, but I got there.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Marie Breckenridge 2004

Accession number: 2010.74

Currently not on display

Copyright image request form
Request a digital copy of an image for publication

Artist and subject

Nancy Borlase (age 85 in 1999)

Marie Breckenridge (age 84 in 1999)

Vida Breckenridge

Subject professions

Public identity

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.

Pat Mackie, 2004 Nancy Borlase
Pat Mackie, 2004 Nancy Borlase
Pat Mackie, 2004 Nancy Borlase
Pat Mackie, 2004 Nancy Borlase

Blue Collar Icon

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2005

Dr Sarah Engledow delves into the life of union leader Pat Mackie who is depicted in a portrait by Nancy Borlase AM.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

Plan your visit

Location, accessibility and amenities

We would like to thank our partners.
© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia


Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.