Thursday, 28 July 2011

Vale Margaret Olley


Margaret Olley was a much-loved Sydney painter, Australian painter. She died in her sleep during Monday night. Her agent flew home to Brisbane Monday evening, and a neighbour found her body at 7am Tuesday. She was 88. She died at home. I took this photograph of her home this morning. She had lived there, mostly by herself, since the early '60s. That is fifty years. I am hoping that the AG-NSW figures prominently in her will, and that Edmund Capon will ensure that this terrace is preserved.


As age and life ravaged her body, making it difficult for her to walk, so her art closed in around her. Her home become her subject and, indeed, her canvas. I suspect that inside is a bit of a mess. More so now that her larger-than-life character is not there to bring it all to life. She was racing time to put the finishing touches to yet another exhibition. She loved her home, her garden, her friends, and her art.


I guess she would have to be described as an eccentric. She waged battles with alcohol and with depression, and won them every-so-often. She maintained she was cut out for neither marriage, nor children, but made do with a few solid relationships. She was the sort of character who took no prisoners, judging from some of the stories I have read in the press today. Straight questions received blunt answers. Pretentious questions were deflected. Twice she figured in the premier portrait competition in Australia, The Archibald Prize at the AG-NSW. Both times as the winning subject. In 1948 she was painted by William Dobell, and in 2011 she was painted by Ben Quilty.


In 1964, she set up her easel one street further over from her terrace, and painted this group of Victorian terraces at the bottom of Union Street, just up from Five Ways. I reproduced it today in photographic form for you. Olley herself was a wealthy woman through judicious investment in tenements/terraces in the early '60s in Paddinton. Just as the renovation phase got underway in earnest. The money she made, she invested in Australian art. Eventually she gave most of this art to various galleries.

I did not know her personally, but Olley was a joy. Thank you and farewell.


I took three of these images: the top terrace, the terraces in Union Street, and the AG-NSW. All the rest I pilfered from either the SMH, The Australian, the ABC or the AG-NSW. There was plenty out there today to 'borrow' from.

18 comments:

biebkriebels said...

Thanks for this lovely story, she was quite a character.

Andrew said...

Larger than life characters seem be disappearing from the art and literary world, and we are poorer for it. Margaret was great.

Dutchcloggie said...

Aaaah.... The AG-NSW... I remember going to see the Archibald there. Twice.... Must come back sometime when it is on again.

Kay L. Davies said...

She seems to have been a person you would have enjoyed knowing, Julie.
I certainly liked seeing her sketch & watercolour of the houses beside your photograph, and the second portrait of her, which must have been fairly recent.

—Kay, Alberta, Canada

RedPat said...

Quite a character and a great loss! Thanks for showing us all these wonderful paintings.

brattcat said...

thank you for introducing her to us.

Ann said...

I'm sure she'll look after the AG and that Capon will do his best to preserve her house. If you have to go, that's the way to do it. Vale Margaret Olley, a wonderful spirit who will be missed.

Mark said...

Sydney (and Paddo) has lost a real character in the passing of Margaret Olley. I was hoping you would do a post on her life and connection to Paddo as well. I think the the two Archibald Prize winners of her are just amazing.

Kevin said...

Thank you for the informative tribute.

Peter said...

A beaut tribute, where is her house?

Julie said...

I'll email you.

PerthDailyPhoto said...

Excellent post Julie, really enjoyed reading it.

Joan Elizabeth said...

What a great idea to do a tribute and to put her home in context. I used to love her TV interviews, such a straight talker and her studio always fascinated me with all its colour and flowers and clutter.

Rae Walter said...

Your post is a wonderful honoring of Margaret Olley's life Julie. I saw the Ben Quilty painting of her earlier this year. Such an appropriate choice as the Archibald winner for 2011 and now even more so.

Joe said...

Being time poor at the moment I appreciate your informative account of this grand lady. Thanks.

diane b said...

A great tribute to a larger than life character.

Jilly said...

This has to be one the best tributes, photographically and written, I've ever read. You have drawn this talented lady so beautifully, Julie. I wished you'd known her and she YOU.

rallentanda said...

It is a lovely tribute. I had no idea she lived in the house with the boat which has been there since the 60s. I used to live in Duxford St as a student.