Vaike Sabbi arrived in Sydney from her native Estonia aged 11. She studied window dressing, millinery and art at East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School), using her skills to dress her mother’s Paddington store display. Aged 22, and recently married, Vaike Liibus opened her own millinery business; however, World War II intervened and her Piccadilly Arcade shop closed. During the war years she studied under Hayward Veal at Max Meldrum’s Sydney school in Rowe Street, then at the Julian Ashton Art School in The Rocks, where her natural skill as a portraitist emerged.
Widowed in 1954, Liibus took solace in her art. Two years later, her first Archibald work – a portrait of artist Joshua Smith – was selected as a finalist. Her 1958 Archibald portrait is of self-taught artist Gerard Havekes (1925–2011), whose public ceramic works adorn buildings across Australia. It shows the ebullient 33-year-old Dutch émigré in a moment of quiet contemplation.