Important Australian + International Fine Art
30 April 2014


(1923 - 2011)

oil on composition board

76.0 x 101.5 cm

signed lower left: Olley

$50,000 - 70,000
Sold for $72,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 35 - 30 April 2014, Melbourne

Solander Gallery, Canberra
Institutional collection, Sydney, acquired 1980

Catalogue text

There is a certain nonchalance to this still-life painting as a pair of scissors sits casually on a table next to a vase of rustic marigolds, a bowl of prickly pears and a small urn. We can envisage Margaret Olley returning from her sun-drenched garden and trimming the stems of the flowers before placing them in the vase. Despite the relaxed mood of this picture, her arrangement of the objects is a deliberate and precise act. Olley is a master of spatial placement, a device she acquired from her days working in the theatre, experiencing firsthand the significance of space. As she watched the actors enter the stage and wait twenty seconds before they spoke their lines, Olley was struck by the space that each actor created.1 This 'orchestration' is evident in all of her paintings as each object possesses its own personal atmosphere, proportionate to the composition and as actors of her stage.

Olley is renowned for her still-life and interior scenes that reveal her pure delight, as each petal is painted with the same deference as she would paint a human figure. Flowers were a particular favourite of Olley's, 'I can feel for flowers as I can for people. Painting flowers is almost like painting a portrait. I couldn't care less about them as botanical specimens - in fact I don't know the names of many of the flowers I paint.'2 Casting soft shadows onto the back wall, this is a homely scene taken from Olley's everyday life, as if the viewer has stumbled into her private domain. It has been said many times that Olley's domestic environment was her great inspiration, as her good friend Barry Humphries describes, 'The house is her studio, and its contents are her subject. Her method - seemingly vagrant - is in reality a sophisticated artistic assembly line from which emerge her vibrant tableaux of inanimate things.'3

The very warmth of her home emanates from Marigolds and Prickly Pears in a visual feast of texture and colour. As Barry Pearce discusses in the Art Gallery of New South Wales retrospective publication, the viewer garners more than just images of flowers and fruit from Olley's still-life paintings, we are invited into her entire world: 'Darkness and light, fertility and decay, space and time, tragedy and comedy, solitude, camaraderie; all the things we know and imagine about life and humanity can be gathered at her table within the rooms of her world.'4

1. Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997, p. 14
2. Olley in The Australian, 10 November 1964 in Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997, p. 76
3. Humphries, B., 'A Note of Exclamation,' in Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997, p. 8
4. Pearce, op. cit., p. 21