Margaret Olley: From the heart


The Hon. Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, Former Governor-General of Australia, offers her personal reflections on Margaret Olley’s work, how Olley’s paintings were introduced into her life and why her flower studies are a favourite.

Margaret Olley shared her life with us from wherever she made her studio. Her life was a celebration of art, beauty and love. Quentin Bryce

Margaret Olley’s legacy and influence

Watch two long-time friends of Margaret Olley – Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, and Philip Bacon AM, collector and dealer for over 40 years, as they reflect on the legacy and influence of the artist.

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In Brisbane we always believed that Margaret Olley belonged to us. No matter where she travelled, where she settled, we knew that this subtropical city of fragrant and colourful jacarandas, poincianas, frangipanis and allamandas was held in her heart.

It is where her precious gift as a painter began to emerge, to be nurtured and encouraged; where her deeply loved family lived in the expansive weatherboard historic Queenslander named Farndon, with space for aunts, cousins and masses of friends who came to stay. Her mother Grace offered hospitality in spades, the stuff of legend . . .

Every time she came back, Margaret felt she was coming home. What we felt was love, a gentle familiarity and true delight in her work. We recognised and understood her contribution to beauty, the art of the everyday and the poetry of objects. She shared her life with us from wherever she made her studio, the landscapes, portraits, architecture, murals, panoramas, interiors, the view from her window.

For me, it has always been the flowers that are Margaret, that evoke the most tender emotions; heart skipping and breathtaking. Their colour and light, rich sensuality and naturalism. With calm composure, the restraint of quinces lying on a plate. Lush and sensuous, the sheer joyousness of ranunculus jammed in a jar.

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Margaret Olley, Australia 1923-2011 / Gum blossoms 2007 / Oil on board / 76 x 76cm / Private collection / © Estate of Margaret Olley
Brian Johnstone, Marjorie Johnstone and Margaret Olley at the Johnstone Gallery 1957 / Image courtesy: State Library of Queensland

I viewed my first Olleys in the 1950s at the Johnstone Gallery, then located in the Brisbane Arcade in the city. I went there with my mother on our special expeditions to town, just the two of us. There was a pattern to those memorable trips. We would start at Allan and Stark for cosmetics, then down to the Penny’s Building to see milliner Kath Dahl about hats. Next, fashion designer Gwen Gillam in the Arcade for a new dress, a silk cocktail frock, flower at the neckline – probably for show week.

The Hon. Dame Quentin Bryce AD, CVO Former Governor-General of Australia

An extract from Margaret Olley–A Generous Life, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2019. Read in full Quentin Bryce, ‘Margaret Olley: From the heart’ pp. 162-177.

Margaret Olley, Australia 1923-2011 / Delphiniums and cherries 1976 / Oil on board / 122 x 98cm / Private collection / © Estate of Margaret Olley

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Feature image detail: Margaret Olley Delphiniums and cherries 1976

‘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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