Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2008

Margaret Olley

born 1923

oil on composition board

76.0 x 112.0 cm

signed lower right: Olley

$50,000 - 70,000
Sold for $48,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 5 - 27 August 2008, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Sydney
The Estate of Georgie Swift, Sydney


Margaret Olley: Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Sydney, 13 October – 15 November 1997, cat. 1

Catalogue text

The still life paintings of Margaret Olley are like their creator, generous in their abundance of good things and direct in their realisation. The frankness of her personality is captured in paint as much as her vitality and robust energy is reflected in her technique. Still they may be; but they are also very lively! Olley finds inspiration in the interiors of her home, full of flowers, fruits and countless objects, the everyday rubbing shoulders with the exotic. Here are Aibom pots, a Sepik River mask, Oriental ceramics, a pot from Turkey, a painted Chinese folding screen, together with Persian rugs and kilims, and lots of paintings by Jean Bellette. These touches of the exotic in suburban surroundings find their way into all her paintings, as in French Oil Jar with Fruits, 1997. The interiors of her home move seamlessly into still life paintings, each with the added attraction of wooden furniture revelling in the naturalness of their rich timbers. They invite us into her life and home to share with her that place which her friend Jeffrey Smart calls 'that beautiful magic cave of beguiling chaos which is her home. Like an exotic bird, she has spread her motifs for her paintings all about her...'1

French Oil Jar with Fruits, reflects the informal, personal nature of her art. The specially chosen array of fruits and vessels contrast with the foil of warm red-browns of the cedar tabletop, the edge of the painting within the painting most likely being one of her Bellettes. It is striking in its individual sense of form, sensuality of paint, colour and texture. Pears often appear in her paintings, probably because of their unusual shape and creative potential. Basket of Pears, 1994-95, a related work in a private collection, shows the same cedar table spread with basket and plates of pears, complete with the same cake stand, knife, plate, pear, and drapery.2 Unlike so many other artists, the various fruits and other objects in her paintings have no meaning beyond themselves, for metaphor and symbol are not part of Olley's art. Her matter of fact, direct approach is summed up in a comment she made in a 1984 interview for Vogue Living. 'I never arrange things. I just put them down and don't move them.'3 French Oil Jar with Fruits was painted the year following her highly successful retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

1. Smart, J., 'A Tribute' in Pearce, B. et al., Margaret Olley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1996, p. 11
2. Pearce, ibid., p. 118 (illus.)
3. Marshall, H., 'The Eye of an Artist', Vogue Living, February 1984, quoted in Pearce, ibid., p. 81