Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2016


(1923 – 2011)

oil on composition board

70.0 x 92.0 cm

signed lower right: Olley
inscribed verso: Margaret Olley Bush Rose

$40,000 – 60,000
Sold for $46,360 (inc. BP) in Auction 42 - 4 May 2016, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso, cat. 7096)
Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne,
acquired from the above in 1990
Corporate collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

‘…I can think of no other painter of the present time who orchestrates his or her themes with such richness as Margaret Olley. She is a symphonist among flower painters; a painter who calls upon the full resources of the modern palette to express her joy in the beauty of things.’1

Precisely fundamental to Olley’s still-life and interior scenes is this principle of ‘orchestration’, gleaned directly from her experience of the theatre in 1948 when she assisted with painting the sets for Sam Hughes’ productions of Shakespeare’s Pericles and Cocteau’s Orphee (designed by Jean Bellette and Sidney Nolan respectively). Observing the actors being instructed to enter the stage and count twenty seconds before speaking their lines, the young artist soon came to appreciate the importance of creating space for oneself; as she fondly recalls, ‘space is the secret of life… it is everthing.’2 Thus, over the ensuing decades, Olley began to arrange the objects in her art as characters on a stage – objects both commonplace and beautiful, shuffled this way and that, plunged into deep shadow or transformed by lighting.

In Bush Rose, the poignant organisation of elements leads the eye and mind through an intimate, deeply personal drama to a tantalising glimpse of the harbour beyond. Paying homage to both artistic mentors such as Cezanne (the apple motif) and her domestic surroundings which continue to provide inspiration, indeed the work reveals the very essence of the artist’s identity; as Barry Pearce aptly notes

‘…to live with a Margaret Olley painting is to experience the transfiguration of a passionate, highly focused personality into art. In her paintings, the space surrounding each bowl of fruit, each vase of flowers, and through which the eye traverses a cacophony of surfaces such as patterned carpets, modulated walls, and cluttered tabletops, resounds with her presence. These are reflections of the things she loves, and which embellished the centre of how she prefers her existence to be.’3

1. Gleeson, J., ‘Introduction’, Margaret Olley, The Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane, 1964, unpaginated
2. Margaret Olley cited in Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1996, p. 14
3. Pearce, B., ‘Margaret Olley Retrospective’, State of the Arts, Sydney, August – November 1996, p. 5