Important Australian + International Fine Art
20 April 2011


born 1923

oil on composition board

59.0 x 89.5 cm

signed lower right: Olley

$50,000 - 70,000
Sold for $102,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 19 - 20 April 2011, Melbourne

Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
and Brian Moore Fine Art, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney
Private collection, Melbourne


Margaret Olley, Brian Moore Fine Art and Philip Bacon Galleries at Sotheby's, Sydney, 18 October – 4 November 2000, cat. 15

Catalogue text

Margaret Olley draws on a rich history of European painting to inform her practice. The Australian artist uses the intimiste style pioneered by artists Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, who were known for their use of patterning and colour. Like Olley, these French painters and printmakers were fascinated with interior and domestic spaces.

Writing of an exhibition that brought Olley, Bonnard and Vuillard together, Barry Pearce noted that Olley 'feels a deep sympathy for those who have defined a visual life between the walls of their domestic rooms and studios and the objects on their tables at which they have dined and conversed perhaps, or simply meditated, inured from intrigues outside their self-contained lives; from Vermeer, to Chardin, to Cézanne, and to Morandi. There have been such painters depicting exactly the same kind of subject matter as she has for hundreds of years.'1

This sympathy and historical depth is evident in Plumbago, a comparatively recent work in Olley's oeuvre. The painting's title reflects the artist's affinity with her subject, Olley once stating, 'Painting flowers is almost like painting a portrait.'2

Two vases of the native blooms are on benchtops in the artist's kitchen, filled with crockery and household items, the cool blue of the flowers contrasting with the rich browns and reds of the wood interior. Unlike the flat picture plane seen in Olley's earlier work, Plumbago favours a slightly more three dimensional space, emphasising the foreground and the objects within it. An ordinary interior is transformed by Olley's masterful use of paint to create texture, rhythm and movement, and by her characteristically subtle use of tone and light.

1. Margaret Olley, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard: Still Lifes and Interiors, Nevill Keating Tollemache Galleries, London, 2005, p. 3
2. Margaret Olley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1996, p. 76