Tuesday 26 July 2011

“My paintings are all about celebrating life”

Vale Margaret Olley ~ beloved Australian painter acclaimed for her still lifes and domestic interiors paintings.

In the 50′s my mother lived in a flat under Olley’s West End home. My mother had fond memories of that time and would occasionaly model for the artist. She was witty and forthright, and enjoyed the banter of conversation with my grandfather Ted when he visited.

Prolific, free-spirited and much-loved artist Margaret Olley

“I insist on having interesting people around the dinner table: painters, writers, people who are doing things. Barry Humphries is an ideal guest – a most intelligent and amusing person. I’m a little frightened of Dame Edna Everage, though, so have never invited her to my table!” The Artist’s Lunch

Her terrace house studio was the scene of lively dinner parties attended by the likes of Barry Humphries and Leo Schofield.

Margaret Olley Untitled (Still Life with Cornflowers and Grapes), oil on board

Margaret Olley Flannel Flowers, 1976

In 1965 she bought her Paddington terrace home in Sydney, a former hat factory, that was also her studio. It was a mecca for artists, bohemians and intellectuals. It became famous as a magpie’s bower of bric-a-brac and treasures – littered with flowers, fruit, vases and books (and ashtrays) that were the subject of her still lifes, scattered about in various states of completion.

Margaret Olley’s house and garden is a sublime jumble, famous by reputation.  Her clothes, often worn in layers, a collection of blouses, sheeny, with light scarves, sometimes cheap sometimes expensive, speckled or striped, over-jackets of Chinese silk and quilted velvet, Van Eyck bonnets, battered straw hats, and an old cardigan for a cold body. Margaret Olley’s mind reverberates with causes; but in the end her purpose in life is to turn this world, this illusion in which we live, into art.  Barry Pearce, Head Curator, Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Still Life PomegranatesOil on Board

“She could be grumpy, forthright and immoveable – but she had a heart of art.”

Stuart Purves, owner of Australian Galleries

Far from a Still Life, 2005 biography by Meg Stewart.

THERE’S nothing like painting what you’re familiar with,” says Margaret Olley. “You can do all sorts of things with the ordinary.” She pauses to consider the alternatives. “To go off and paint the Swiss mountains is a monumental task, best left to God!” But though Olley, 76, mostly paints still-lifes and the interiors of her own house, her world is anything but limited. She is a knowledgeable benefactor, who has given to public galleries works by Arthur Boyd, Edgar Degas and Georgio Morandi, as well as early Indian sculptures and miniatures.  Sue Smith

Margaret Olley, Brisbane River 1956. Ink and watercolour on paper.

Born in Lismore on 24 June 1923, Olley began painting as a young girl at Somerville House boarding school in Brisbane, going on to study at the Brisbane Central Technical College and then at East Sydney Technical College graduating in 1945.

In the 1980s, philanthropy became a passion, partly prompted by her inheritance of the Hughes estate. In 1990 she established the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust, providing purchasing funds for regional galleries in particular. She also donated more than $7 million in art to the Art Gallery of NSW, including works by Picasso, Cezanne and Bonnard, and many of her own paintings. Comprehensive estate planning was instrumental in the smooth transition of her valuables.

Olley was the subject of this year’s winning Archibald Prize portrait by Ben Quilty {above} and in 1948 sat for William Dobell’s prize-winner.

Margaret Olley never married and when asked about the subject said “I had a few lucky escapes.

 She ”never liked the institution of marriage – I dislike the notion of being owned”

and shunned motherhood: ”I never had that nesting urge.”


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