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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.

Double Portrait: Vida and Marie Breckenridge (study)

1999
Nancy Borlase AM

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
© Estate of Nancy Borlase

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Nancy Borlase AM (age 85 in 1999)

Marie Breckenridge (age 84 in 1999)

Vida Breckenridge

Subject professions

Public identity

Donated by

Marie Breckenridge (1 portrait)

Related information

The Companion

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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
Pat Mackie
Pat Mackie
Pat Mackie

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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.

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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