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Paquita Mawson
, late 1940s

by Ingrid Erns

oil on canvas (support: 71.0 cm x 52.7 cm)

Francisca Adriana (Paquita) Mawson obe (née Delprat, 1891–1974) came to Australia when her father, mining engineer GD Delprat, became the General Manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. Paquita attended school in Broken Hill and in Adelaide before studying piano and singing at the Elder Conservatorium of Music. She was seventeen when she met Douglas Mawson, shortly after his return from Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition. They were engaged within a year, Paquita accepting that she would have to wait until the end of Mawson’s next venture, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, before their wedding could take place. They married in Melbourne, a month after Mawson’s return from Antarctica, in March 1914. Their first of their two daughters, Patricia, was born in 1915; she remained in Australia when Paquita went to England to assist Mawson in his wartime role with the Ministry of Munitions. Their second child, Jessica, was born in London in 1917. After the war, the family settled in Adelaide, where Paquita worked for the Mothers’ and Babies’ Health Association and the Australian Red Cross Society. Notable for her community work, Paquita was equally prominent in Adelaide’s social and cultural life. She was appointed an officer of the Order of Oranje-Nassau in 1946 for her work with Dutch refugees during World War II; and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1951. She also wrote two books – the first a biography of her father, A Vision of Steel (1958); and the second a biography of her husband, Mawson of the Antarctic (1964).

Ingrid Erns (1919–1987), painter and art teacher, was born in Russia and studied at art schools in Latvia between 1939 and 1944. She came to Australia after the war and settled in Adelaide, where she joined the Contemporary Art Society of South Australia and the Royal South Australian Society of Arts. It is thought that this portrait of Paquita Mawson came about when she was invited to pose for one of Erns’s art classes in Adelaide. The students would spend three or four lessons producing a portrait of a single sitter, with the sitter being presented with her portrait by Erns at the end of the series of lessons. The painting remained in the Mawson family until being donated to the National Portrait Gallery in 2010.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Gareth Mawson Thomas and Pamela Karran-Thomas of the Mawson family 2010
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2010.81