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Aileen R Dent Miss Jean Burns

oil on canvas

92 x 72 cm

Image courtesy Greg Weir

Jean Burns (1919-2019) joined the junior Royal Victorian Aero Club at age 14 as the only girl trying to break into an all-male field. At 16 she was flying, and in 1937 at 17 years of age she gained her A-class pilot’s licence. That same year, for a bet to gain additional free flying hours, Burns parachuted from a plane at about 1000m, making her not only Australia’s youngest female pilot but also our first female parachutist.

Burns was aged 20 and quite a celebrity when Aileen Dent painted this Archibald portrait, which was printed onto postcards and sold to assist the war effort. According to Burns’ family, artist and subject first met through Jean’s father, Robert Burns. Dent used to paint around Launching Place, Victoria, which is where Robert and a young Jean went fishing and camping.