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Maisie, 1938-39

Peter Purves Smith

gouache on paper (frame: 78.0 cm x 72.5 cm, sheet: 42.4 cm x 38.0 cm)

Mavis (Maisie) Mathews (1915-2001), children’s librarian and artists’ muse, developed an interest in art as a Melbourne schoolgirl, and attended both the University of Melbourne and the George Bell School until she opted for the latter. Her fellow students at the George Bell School included Peter Purves Smith and Russell Drysdale, who had been at Geelong Grammar together. In 1935 Drysdale married Elizabeth 'Bon' Stephens. In late 1937, Purves Smith left for Europe, followed in 1938 by Maisie and her mother. After Maisie returned home Purves Smith cabled his proposal to her but they were to remain separated for the duration of the war. Purves Smith and Maisie were married in 1946 in Melbourne, with Drysdale as best man; however, Purves Smith died following surgery to relieve symptoms of tuberculosis in 1949. Three years later, Maisie completed studies at the Public Library of Victoria, Library Training School and in 1953 was appointed Deputy Librarian at the City of Coburg Library. Later she was appointed Children's Librarian (at the same time retaining her position as Deputy Librarian) and was given the responsibility of setting up the Children's Library, selecting and cataloguing the books. Having spent a few years managing the Austral Bookshop in Collins Street, from 1958 to 1963 she was Children's Librarian at the Camberwell City Library, and served on the Editorial Committee of the Children's Book Council of Victoria. During this time she also published articles about and reviews of children's books. In November 1963, Bon Drysdale died, and seven months later Maisie married Russell Drysdale. They bought a block of land on the Central Coast near Gosford, named it Bouddi Farm, and commissioned Melbourne architect Guilford Bell to design a house for them there. They lived there for the rest of their lives, though they travelled widely; she outlived him by twenty years, and continued to travel.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

Accession number: 2012.144

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Peter Purves Smith (age 26 in 1938)

Lady Maisie Drysdale (age 23 in 1938)

Subject professions

Education and research

Donated by

The Estate of Lady Maisie Drysdale (2 portraits)

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