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Nancy Wake - The White Mouse
, 2001

by Melissa Beowulf

oil on canvas (support: 180.0 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.

Melissa Beowulf grew up in Sydney, where she became a graphic artist. After moving to Canberra in 1991 she began to specialise in portraiture and sculpture. Her portrait of Ken Done was a finalist in the 2000 Archibald Prize, and she was a finalist in the Portia Geach Prizes of 1998, 2001 and 2003. This portrait of Wake was a finalist in the 2002 Doug Moran Portrait Prize.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG 2004
Accession number: 2004.20