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.
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
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.
Georges William Thornley after Edgar Degas
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