Important Australian + International Fine Art
30 April 2014


(1923 - 2011)

oil on composition board

60.5 x 121.5 cm

signed lower right: Olley

$30,000 - 40,000
Sold for $42,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 35 - 30 April 2014, Melbourne

Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
Institutional collection, Sydney, acquired 1981

Catalogue text

Fame for Margaret Olley combined painting with personality. First becoming known as the local La Gioconda, it was 1949 and William Dobell had just been declared winner of the Archibald Prize with his portrait of Olley, bountiful in its perceptive expression of her character. The same time saw another, painted by Russell Drysdale, likewise striking in its individuality.1 It was not until many years later, during 1994-95, that Jeffrey Smart painted his homage, Margaret Olley in the Louvre Museum (collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney), acknowledging the inveterate traveller and art museum visitor. Then there was the living personality - 'Margaret is such a life-enhancing force to so many people ...', wrote Smart.2 And Barry Humphries spoke of her being '... Sydney's most coveted hostess whose dinner parties sparkle in the memories of her friends.'3 Her boundless generosities were legion, all her qualities of personality spilling over into her art. Still as so much of it is in name, her paintings are the very opposite, colourful and full of vivacity. They pulsate with the life-force that was Olley.

Given that cloistered subjects and still lifes dominate her art, it is a pleasure to come across a landscape, similarly endowed with the life that her brush brought to all things. 'I used to love painting landscapes and I used to do a lot of it', she once confided. 'But I don't drive; I'm not mechanical ... And the time! so sometimes I'll introduce a landscape into a painting through a window.4 In 1969 Olley bought some houses in Newcastle, spending time restoring them and painting pictures of the busy harbour scene. The next few years resulted in several related views, especially Rainy Day Newcastle, 1971 and State Dockyards, Newcastle, 1974.5 Rainy Day Newcastle and Newcastle Harbour, c1975, taken from a spot on 'The Hill', are close in view, foreground buildings and roofs much the same, a slight move in position resulting in either a long view up the Hunter River, or, in our work, across to the suburb of Stockton. To the right the river flows passed the Nobbys Head into the Pacific Ocean. The play of light on white sails and buildings gives added movement to the scene, sparkling as the sun draws west towards evening and deepening shadows. (Paintings of the view date back to early colonial settlement and the work of Joseph Lycett.) While the panoramic splendour of our painting contrasts with the enclosed interiors and paintings of flowers and fruit, all share busy brushwork and colour inspired by Olley's approach - 'Keep your sense of curiosity and wonder.'6 Art for Olley was a celebration of life.

1. Both portraits were painted in 1948, the Dobell portrait being in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
2. Smart, J., 'A tribute', in Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1996, p. 11
3. Humphries, B., 'A note of exclamation', in Pearce, op. cit., p. 9
4. Olley, M., quoted in Pearce, op. cit., p. 40
5. Rainy Day Newcastle, 1971, collection of Broken Hill Proprietary Limited, Newcastle; State Dockyards, Newcastle, 1975, Newcastle Art Gallery, New South Wales, gift of Lady Maisie Drysdale 1986
6. Olley, quoted in Pearce, op. cit., p. 105