Modern + Contemporary Art
13 June 2018


(1923 – 2011)

oil on composition board

68.0 x 91.5 cm

signed lower left: Olley
bears inscription verso: 5

Private sale

Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
Artbank, Sydney


Margaret Olley, Holdsworth Galleries, Sydney,
18 October – 6 November 1980, cat. 22
Margaret Olley, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane,
11 September – 3 October 1981, cat. 11


Catalogue text

Unswayed by the tide of late Modernism, Margaret Olley was forever steadfastly devoted to the humble still life. As observed by her dear friend Edmund Capon, ’Still-lifes and interiors are her métier, and Margaret Olley is a part of that tradition, from Vermeer in the seventeenth century to Morandi in the twentieth century – two of her most admired artists – which finds inspiration, beauty and a rich spirit of humanity in the most familiar of subject matter’.1 Painted just before the artist left for a sojourn to Asia, United States and the United Kingdom in 1981, during which she eagerly attended exhibitions by Henri Matisse and Giorgio Morandi, Lupins and Lemons, 1980 is a prime example of Olley’s masterful manipulation of light and space.

Lupins and Lemons features a bunch of effervescent blue lupins in a stoneware jug, balanced with deep red apples and ripening lemons upon a striped blue and white tablecloth. The composition is nonchalant, with a lemon casually resting beside its bowl as though it had toppled only moments before. However, this ambience conceals a carefully considered orchestration of space. Arranged and rearranged like props in a theatre set, the objects in Olley’s paintings were meticulously placed and, in time, became as acquainted to viewers as they were to the artist herself. The blue and white fruit bowl, jug and striped tablecloth are all recurring ‘characters’ on her stage, imbued with the stories and memories of her colourful life. The lush arrangement of lupins against the familiar pink backdrop of Olley’s home pay homage to her beloved European tradition of nature morte painting in a delicately constructed mise en scène. As Barry Pearce elucidates in the Art Gallery of New South Wales retrospective publication, there is more to Olley’s paintings than a mere still-life – we are invited into her personal domain: ’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.’2

The artist endlessly found magic in the unremarkable, revelling in the beauty and warmth of her Paddington terrace home. The balance and harmony found in Lupins and Lemons reflects the very essence of the artist's own domestic existence. As her close friend, Barry Humphries poeticised:

The rugs, the jugs, congealing cups of tea
The Chinese screen and old Matisse’s prints,
Cosier and richer than the QVB
Is Olley’s kitchen with its glows and glints.3

1. Capon, E., quoted in Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1996, p. 7.b
2. Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997, p. 21
3. Humphries, B., ‘Ode to Olley’ in Alderton, S., Margaret Olley: Home, Museum of Sydney, Sydney, 2012, p. 17