Meet Bonnie Sue: Margaret Olley’s beloved pug

 

Margaret Olley yearned for a dog – in the early 1960s Olley’s beloved pug becomes part of her life, Olley reminisces that: ‘One day somebody arrived with a whole carload of pug dogs. They had little faces like pansies and I thought, that’s the dog for me. I arranged to get a pup from the next litter and so Bonnie Sue, as the breeder had named her, entered my life’.1

Bonnie Sue enters Margaret Olley’s life

Margaret Olley and Bonnie Sue at Farndon 1970 / Photograph: John Pasquarelli / Image courtesy: University of Queensland Art Museum
Margaret Olley, Australia 1923-2011 / Bonnie Sue 1964 / Oil on board / Gift of the Margaret Olley Estate, 2015 / Collection: Tweed Regional Gallery, Murwillumbah / © Estate of Margaret Olley

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Framed in both warm and cool colours, this portrait of Bonnie Sue was hung at Olley’s exhibition at Macquarie Gallery, Sydney. Bonnie Sue was also included in a number of human portrait compositions apart from her own numerous portraits being displayed at Olley’s exhibitions.

To Olley’s distress, her most accomplished works of Bonnie Sue were lost in the fire at the family home, Farndon in 1980, situated at 15 Morry Street, Hill End (now West End).

Farndon was just a street back from the river. From my bedroom I could see little bits of its greeny-coloured water. At night the river cruise would come past. It used to go about as far as Lone Pine and there was dancing on board. You’d hear faint chugging; the music would be slowly swelling as the boat came closer then fade away. Then just as we were about to fall asleep, the faint sound of music would drift off the water again as it came back down.2

Endnotes
1 Meg Stewart, Margaret Olley: Far from a Still Life, rev. and updated edn, Vintage, Sydney, 2012, pp. 350
2 Margaret Olley: Far from a Still Life, pp. 273-4.

Farndon

Margaret Olley

Margaret Olley’s family home, Farndon, Brisbane c.1950s / Margaret Olley Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archive

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Feature image detail: Margaret Olley Bonnie Sue 1964

‘A Generous Life’ at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) 15 June – 13 October 2019 examined the legacy and influence of much-loved Australian artist Margaret Olley, who spent a formative part of her career in Brisbane. A charismatic character, whose life was immersed in art, she exerted a lasting impact on many artists as a mentor, friend and muse.

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