Margaret Olley

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Margaret Olley AC
Margaret Olley in August 2009
Margaret Olley in August 2009
Born Margaret Hannah Olley
(1923-06-24)24 June 1923
Lismore, New South Wales, Australia
Died 26 July 2011(2011-07-26) (aged 88)
Paddington, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality Australian
Education East Sydney Technical College
Known for Painting
Notable work Still life with pink fish
Awards Mosman Art Prize (1947)
Olley's home in Paddington

Margaret Hannah Olley AC (24 June 1923 – 26 July 2011) was an Australian painter. She was the subject of more than ninety solo exhibitions.

Early life[edit]

Margaret Olley was born in Lismore, New South Wales. She was the eldest of three children of Joseph Olley and Grace (née Temperley). She attended Somerville House in Brisbane during her high school years and was so focused on art that she dropped one French class in order to take another art lesson. In 1941, Margaret commenced classes at Brisbane Central Technical College and then moved to Sydney in 1943 to enroll in an Art Diploma course at East Sydney Technical College where she graduated with A-class honours in 1945.


Her work concentrated on still life.[1] In 1997 a major retrospective of her work was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She received the inaugural Mosman Art Prize in 1947.


On 13 July 2006 she donated more works to the Art Gallery of New South Wales; her donations included more than 130 works worth $7 million.[2]

Tributes and honours[edit]

Olley was twice the subject of an Archibald Prize winning painting; the first by William Dobell in 1948[3] and the other by Ben Quilty in 2011.[4][5] She was also the subject of paintings by many of her artist friends, including Russell Drysdale.[6]

On 10 June 1991, in the Queen's Birthday Honours list, Olley was made an Officer of the Order of Australia "for service as an artist and to the promotion of art". On 12 June 2006, she was awarded Australia's highest civilian honour, the Companion of the Order, "for service as one of Australia's most distinguished artists, for support and philanthropy to the visual and performing arts, and for encouragement of young and emerging artists".

In 2006, Olley was awarded the degree Doctor of Fine Arts honoris causa by the University of Newcastle.[7]

Final exhibition[edit]

Of the last paintings that Olley did before her death, 27 were exhibited at Sotheby's Australia in Woollahra in an exhibition entitled The Inner Sanctum of Margaret Olley that opened on 2 March 2012. Olley had put the final touches on the show the day before she died and Philip Bacon, who had exhibited her work for decades, had prepared a catalogue to show her that weekend.[8] The opening night was attended by about 350 people among whom were the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, who gave an address, in which she said that Olley's work was often just like the artist, "filled with optimism".[9] Other attendees at the opening included Penelope Wensley, the Governor of Queensland, Edmund Capon, Ben Quilty and Barry Humphries.[10]


Olley died at her home in Paddington in July 2011, aged 88.[11] She never married and had no children. Her Paddington home sold for over three million dollars in July 2014.[12]


Hibiscus in flower in front yard of her Paddington home, March 2014
Antique fountain originally in Margaret Olley's Paddington garden, now part of Wendy Whiteley's garden at Lavender Bay

After Olley's death, the Art Gallery of New South Wales used funds donated by its Collection Circle to purchase Nasturtiums, a painting by E. Phillips Fox as a memorial to her.[13]

Her ideas about art were explored in conversations held between 19 October 2009 and 22 September 2010 with author Barry Pearce, whose book based on them was published in the year of her death.[14]

Part of Olley's Paddington house, well known for its items that the painter collected and used as subject matter for her art, described as "her lifelong installation",[15] has been recreated at the Tweed River Art Gallery, an area not far from where the artist was born. The architect of the Tweed's new Margaret Olley Centre, Bud Brannigan, said that it would be faithful to Olley's house, "in all of its glory".[16][17]

There is a comprehensive photographic record of her studio and work, shot on the morning she died, by artist photographer Greg Weight. This suite of prints, has been donated to the Tweed River Art Gallery.

A documentary by Catherine Hunter, Margaret Olley — A Life in Paint follows Olley as she completes her last – and many believe her finest – works, those painted in the 18 months leading up to her death.[18] The critically acclaimed[19] film interprets Olley's style, passion and artistic evolution through the reflections of her peers, including former National Gallery of Australia director Betty Churcher, curator Barry Pearce and Ben Quilty, whose portrait of Olley won the 2011 Archibald Prize.


  1. ^ Barrett, Rosanne (24 April 2009). "Australian Artist Margaret Olley Talks About Giving Back". Wall Street Journal Asia. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  2. ^ Kruger, P. 13 July 2006. Margaret Olley donates important collection to Art Gallery of NSW, ABC News
  3. ^ Dobell, William (1948). "Margaret Olley". AGNSW collection record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 10 May 2016. 
  4. ^ "Archibald Prize". AGNSW prize record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2016. 
  5. ^ Westwood, Matthew (16 April 2011), "Margaret Olley leaves her hat on for Ben Quilty's win", The Australian, retrieved 16 April 2011 
  6. ^ Artist Margaret Olley dead, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 2011.
  7. ^ 2006. Honorary degrees, The University of Newcastle, Australia
  8. ^ Taylor, Andrew (12 February 2012), "Final flowering of a dazzling talent", The Sydney Morning Herald, retrieved 5 March 2012 
  9. ^ Address by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia on the occasion of the Official opening of the Margaret Olley Exhibition Archived 16 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Murphy, Damien (3 March 2012), "Private Sydney: Olley Exhibition opening a friendly occasion", The Sydney Morning Herald, retrieved 5 March 2012 
  11. ^ Artist Margaret Olley dead, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 26 July 2011.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Fox, E Phillips (c. 1912). "Nasturtiums". AGNSW collection record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  14. ^ Pierce, Barry (2012). Margaret Olley. The Beagle Press. 
  15. ^ Meacham, Steve (20 August 2011), "Behold this mess, where the spirit of a treasured artist dwells", The Sydney Morning Herald, retrieved 5 March 2012 
  16. ^ Meacham, Steve (21 January 2012), "State of the art", The Sydney Morning Herald, retrieved 5 March 2012 
  17. ^ Morgan, Joyce (25 February 2012), "A spirited house", The Sydney Morning Herald, retrieved 5 March 2012 
  18. ^ "Margaret Olley: A Life In Paint". ABC TV. 22 July 2012. 
  19. ^ "A Life in Paint". The Age. 24 July 2012. 

External links[edit]