Margaret Olley: So much herself

 

Christine France offers her personal reflections on Margaret Olley’s life, work and her generous spirit. Visit the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) until 13 October 2019 to view the free exhibition ‘Margaret Olley: A Generous Life’, which examines the legacy and influence of one of Australia’s most beloved artists, a charismatic character whose life was immersed in art.

Lewis Morley, Hong Kong/England/Australia 1925–2013 / Portrait Margaret Olley 1998 / Gelatin silver photograph / 24.1 x 36.6 cm / Gift of the artist 2003. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra / © Lewis Morley/ National Science & Media Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library
Greg Weight, Australia b.1946 / Portrait Margaret Olley 1991 / Gelatin silver photograph / 36.2 x 45.3cm / Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004 / Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra / Image reproduced courtesy of Greg Weight / © Greg Weight

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I think ‘a generous life’ is spot on. Margaret was generous in her friendships, extraordinarily generous. Later on in life, when she could afford it, she was generous with gifting things to institutions. She reached out to friends, would pay their fares to places and publish books for them… Margaret had some very early experiences of giving which served as examples to her. Early on in her career she met Howard Hinton… He would buy paintings, hang them end to end on his bedroom wall, and store them under his bed. Later, he gifted them all to the Teacher’s College in Armidale.1 He set a very strong example for Margaret.

Ethel Carrick Fox

Ethel Carrick Fox, England/France/Australia 1872–1952 / On the beach c.1909 / Oil on canvas / 36 x 42cm / Gift of the Margaret Olley Art Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2011 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Margaret Cilento

Margaret Cilento, Australia 1923-2006 / The immigrants 1951, reworked 1952 / Oil on board / 98 x 120cm / Gift of the Margaret Olley Art Trust 1993 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

She learnt another lesson about being generous when she went to England. She missed out on the travelling art scholarship, but her friend Anne Wienholt, who’s another Queenslander, sent her the money to go. Olley never ever forgot that. When she was overseas, she’d be admiring a painting, look at the plaque beside it and say, ‘Oh, it was donated by someone’. She thought it was a really wonderful thing to have done. So as soon as she got a bit of money, she started donating to public institutions, and the first thing she bought was Anne Wienholt’s bronze sculpture The medium 1984, which she gave to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1988.2

Christine France OAM Curator and author

Endnotes
1 These works are now held in the New England Regional Art Museum Collection.
2 Anne Wienholt, The medium 1984, Gift of Margaret Olley 1988, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

An extract from Margaret Olley–A Generous Life, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2019. Read in full Simon Elliott and Christine France, ‘So much herself: A conversation about Margaret Olley’ pp. 178-195.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Spain 1881-1973 / Le Repas frugal (The frugal meal) (from ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’ series) 1904, printed 1913 / Etching and scraper on Van Gelder Zonen wove paper / 46.4 x 37.8cm (comp.) / Purchased 2015 with funds from the Margaret Olley Art Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Pablo Picasso/Succession Picasso. Licensed by Copyright Agency, 2015

Georges William Thornley after Edgar Degas

Georges William Thornley, Lithographer, 1857-1935/ after Edgar Degas, Artist, France 1834-1917 / Le Bain (The bath) c.1888, published 1889 (in ‘Quinze lithographies d’après Degas’ (Paris: Boussod & Valadon)) / Crayon manner lithograph (from transfer paper); printed in red/brown ink on paper (chine collé), laid down on green paper backing sheet / 20.3 x 20.2cm (comp.) / Gift of the Margaret Olley Art Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2012 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degar, France 1834-1917 / Three views of Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit, quatrième étude (Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot, fourth study) c.1882-1900, cast before 1954 / Bronze, dark brown and green patina / 46.2 x 25 x 18cm / Gift of Philip Bacon AM, in memory of Margaret Olley AC, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

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Feature image: Margaret Olley and William Dobell in ‘Painting People’ 1965 in front of William Dobell’s 1948 Archibald Prize–winning portrait of Olley / Still supplied by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia’s Film Australia Collection / © NFSA

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