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Brisbane. The Gallery of Modern Art exhibition of some of the paintings of well known Australian artist Margaret Olley who died in 2011. | by denisbin
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Brisbane. The Gallery of Modern Art exhibition of some of the paintings of well known Australian artist Margaret Olley who died in 2011.

Margaret Olley 1923-2011.

Margaret Olley was born in Lismore as her parents operated a farm near Kyogle. When she was two years old the family move onto a sugar cane property near Tully in northern Queensland but they returned to a sugar cane farm near Murwillumbah in 1931. Margaret then attended the primary school in Murwillumbah with her siblings. She was one of three children in the family of Joseph and Grace Olley. The family sold the sugar cane farm and moved to Brisbane in 1935. For her secondary education Margaret Olley was sent to Somerville House private boarding school in Brisbane which began its life as the Brisbane High School for Girls in 1899. It is currently run by the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. Margaret attended Somerville House in 1937 through to the end of 1940. Here the art teacher Caroline Barker noted Margaret’s talent for painting and so her mother sent her to Brisbane Central Technical College in 1941 to study art. Olley was not happy with the approach to art in Brisbane and moved to a technical college in Sydney in 1942. She graduated with first class honours from the National Art School in Sydney in 1945. She held her first solo art exhibition in 1948 which was also the year that noted Australian painter William Dobell painted her portrait in a post war fantasy ball gown. His painting won the Archibald Portraiture prize and boosted Margaret Olley’s social and art world profile. She was also painted by Russell Drysdale. When her father died in 1953 she returned to live at the family home in Brisbane. She continued painting and travelling abroad for some years until 1962 when she had sell-out exhibition in the Johnstone Gallery in Brisbane in which she sold 38 paintings at £3,000 each making her the most successful Australian female painter to that time. She began to specialise in still life, flower paintings and work depicting young Aboriginal women. With greater notoriety Olley returned to live in Sydney. For around a decade she lived the love of her life with Sam Hughes who sadly died in 1982 the year in which her mother also died. She continued her world travels in the 1980s especially to France, other parts of Europe, to Asia and to America.


Back in the 1940s in Sydney he had met art collector Howard Hinton who bought art works prodigiously and donated most to the Armidale Teachers College which in turn donated them to the current Armidale Regional Art Museum. It was the memory of his donations that began her life of donating her art works to galleries. Over the years she donated extensively to the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Queensland Art Gallery, New England Regional Art Museum, Newcastle Regional Art Gallery and to the Tweed Regional Art Gallery in Murwillumbah etc. By 2006 she had donated over 130 paintings to the Art Gallery of New South Wales worth over seven million dollars. Her art donations and her support of younger artists resulted in her being made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1991 and later she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. In 1990 she established the Margaret Olley Art Trust to coordinate donations to galleries and in 2008 she donated one million dollars to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the purchase of an 1888 painting by Paul Cezanne. In her later years in Paddington she developed a strong friendship with painter Ben Quilty who won an Archibald Portraiture prize for his portrait of her in 2011 the year that she died. Her later paintings focussed on flowers and curios and items in her Paddington home. During her life she held over 90 solo art exhibitions. Her colourful home and studio have been recreated in the Tweed Regional Art Gallery in Murwillumbah and she opened one stage of the Tweed Art Gallery in 2006. Her still life paintings are renown for their colourful extravagance which epitomises Margaret Olley’s optimism and passion for life.


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Taken on August 7, 2019