Christine France offers her personal reflections on Margaret Olley’s life, work and her generous spirit. 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.
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Australian artists across generations are represented in Margaret Olley’s benefaction, including works by her forebear Ethel Carrick Fox, and contemporary Margaret Cilento. She also gifted works by Pablo Picasso, Georges William Thornley, and Edgar Degas into the QAGOMA Collection.
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
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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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
‘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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