Important Fine Art and Aboriginal Art
30 November 2016


(1923 – 2011)

oil on composition board

75.0 x 100.0 cm

signed lower right: Olley

$60,000 – 80,000

Holdsworth Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney
Savill Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


Australian Painting 1950 to now, Savill Galleries, Sydney, 8 May – 6 June 2007, cat. 18 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Catalogue text

Celebrated throughout her life and beyond as a constant and unwavering presence in the Australian art world, Margaret Olley’s luminous and inviting still lives have brought joy to many generations of art lovers. Remaining steadfastly devoted to the humble genre of still life eschewed by her contemporaries, Olley cultivated a creative and stylistic connection to the European masters of the respected modernist tradition of natures mortes such as Chardin, Cézanne and Morandi. Like the considered masterpieces of these artists, the relaxed and prosaic character of Olley’s compositions hides a carefully considered orchestration of space. Familiar objects and organic elements reverberate with an aura that elevates each object’s material and symbolic meaning – Olley was known to paint her material possessions with the same deference as she would a human subject. By placing them in one of her still life subjects, Olley raises the status of a simple earthenware jug to that of a treasure, glowing in the warm light of a collector’s kitchen.

This Still Life with Flowers and Plums, c.1978 features a bunch of marigolds in a stoneware jug, deep blue cornflowers complementing their golden tones, balanced by a placement of four velvety plums to the left resting on a folded bolt of brilliant white cloth. Tonally, this painting belongs to a decade in Olley’s career that was defined by a brightening of her palette and increased experimentation with the spatial and chromatic possibilities within her compositions. Still life with Flower and Plums reveals Olley’s great attention to detail, translating her delight in subtle differences in tone and texture and the nonchalant presence of a single fallen marigold blossom on the table.

Margaret Olley was a painter of her own immediate surroundings, of the rich assortment of bric-a-brac that overran her Paddington terraced house, acquired from decades of far-reaching wide travels, and the plentiful natural resources of the land on which she lived. The same objects reappear time and time again in her thoughtful compositions, imbued with the weight of her ownership and their own material history. The intimate familiarity this artist had with her subject matter allowed her to arrange her compositions with subtle transformations and simple adjustments of light and shade. Through this, the familiar and commonplace is leant a new lease of life, their texture and colour highlighted briefly in this one composition. As James Gleeson wrote in the introductory essay of her 1964 exhibition at Johnstone Galleries ‘She [Olley] is a symphonist amongst flower painters, a painter who calls upon the full resources of the modern palette to express her joy in the beauty of things’.1

1.Gleeson, J., ‘Introduction’, Margaret Olley, The Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane, 1964, n.p.