Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 April 2010

John Olsen

born 1928

woven wool tapestry

178.0 x 238.0 cm

edition of 6

woven at the Portalegre tapestry workshop, Portugal

$100,000 - 120,000

Clune Galleries, Sydney
The Estate of Neville Gruzman, Sydney


John Olsen, Clune Galleries, Sydney, April 1965, cat. 1 (another example)
The Mertz Collection of Contemporary Australian Painting, National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, cat. 66 (another example)
Contemporary Australian Painting from the Mertz Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, United States of America, cat. 22 (another example)


Art and Australia, March 1965, Vol. 2, no. 3, p. 235 (illus. another example)
Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000 (revised edition), pp. 77, 252, pl. 46 (illus. another example)

Catalogue text

During the early 1960s, Olsen extended his creative interests to embrace painting ceilings in the homes of his friends and the designing of tapestries, each influenced and enriched the other. In 1962, art dealer Frank McDonald commissioned Olsen to paint a ceiling in his Woollahra home - a sunburst chiefly of primary colours, drawn spontaneously by brush directly onto the ceiling. The result was Summer in the You Beaut Country, imbued with his typically inquisitive, wandering lines, lively arabesques, and grinning faces. (The painting on six panels is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.) Joie de Vivre, Olsen's first tapestry design, followed shortly after. Although it was not sent to Portugal's Manufactura de Tape├žarias de Portalegre until 1964, the same enthusiasm translated into sunny colours, line and form inspires both. The differences are principally those of medium derived from technical requirements, the nature of wool and its use in tapestry requiring a greater degree of definition. Furthermore, the texture and warmth of the material gave it a different visual effect, colour texture and temperature adding to its celebratory mood. Joie de Vivre was catalogue number one in Olsen's solo exhibition at Sydney's Clune Galleries in 1965. The vitality of his work was infectious, reflected in the critical acclaim it received. Wallace Thornton wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that it was 'the most joyful exhibition to be seen in Sydney in recent memory.'1 In his guise as critic, artist James Gleeson's enthusiasm matched that of Olsen - 'whose work glows and blooms with an uninhibited acceptance of life.'2 Woven in an edition of six, Joie de Vivre tapestries were acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne while another went abroad to the U.S.A. as part of the Harold Mertz Collection.

Later, a visit to the Portalegre workshop soon resulted in more tapestries - Nude with Clock, Yellow Summer, and Verdure (Westpac Banking Corporation), all of 1966. Now more inclined towards the monumental, they were suited to the public places for which they were destined. Tapestry designs continued into the early seventies, Olsen working with the Queensland weavers Bruce Arthur and Deanna Conti, while the following decade found Olsen at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne. Of these Paella 1981 was acquired by Smorgon Consolidated Industries, Victoria; Rising Sun was woven in 1987; and Light Playing with Evolution 1989 went to The University of Melbourne. The predominance of yellow in each celebrated the sun-drenched source of life. Of all these wonderful tapestries, Joie de Vivre is the most spontaneous in style, its colours and design exuberantly expressing the joyous vivacity of its title. Cheeky images of clown-like fun, its focal point the mad mouthed blue lips and jack-in-the-box, boisterously sport across a lively field of colour. His sensually pulsating rhythms and sinuous calligraphic lines lead 'the eye a wanton kind of chase'.3 Yet, for all its robustness, Joie de Vivre has a distinctive refinement and an elegance that is beguiling and idiosyncratic.

1. Thornton, W., 'Sculpture, Two One-man shows', Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1965, p. 15
2. Gleeson, J., 'Artist glad of life', The Sun-Herald, Sydney, 25 April 1965, p. 76
3. Hogarth, W., The Analysis of Beauty, quoted in Burke, Joseph, William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty', Oxford University Press, 1955, p. 42