Important Australian + International Fine Art
3 May 2023


(1928 - 2023)

oil on canvas

127.5 x 137.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: John / Olsen / 74

$120,000 – $160,000
Sold for $196,364 (inc. BP) in Auction 74 - 3 May 2023, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 25 November 1992, lot 296
Private collection
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 22 November 1998, lot 266 (as ‘Wattle, Pollen Time’)
Private collection, Melbourne


John Olsen Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 2 – 16 August 1977, cat. 5

We are grateful to Kylie Norton, Editor, John Olsen Catalogue Raisonné, for her assistance with this catalogue entry.

Catalogue text

Now in his mid-nineties, John Olsen is hailed as Australia’s greatest living artist. He has lived a life of intense creativity fuelled by love, travel, friendship and food, and the pleasure he finds in the world around him is palpable throughout his work, which is infused with a powerful sense of joie de vivre. The landscape has been a primary subject, from the You Beaut Country series of the mid-1960s which captured the unique nature of Australia in compositions of lively line and vital colour, to depictions of Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre the following decade, more austere but still teeming with life and incident. Explaining his desire to express the experience of a total landscape in his pictures, Olsen said, ‘Not like there is the foreground, there is the middle distance and there is the horizon. I wanted that overall feeling of travelling over the landscape. There you can see the dry creek beds, the nervous system… which when you are just on the ground you don’t witness at all. Then you begin to somehow see the wholeness… It’s more than the present, it’s the past and projects itself into the future.’1

Olsen’s imaging of the landscape acknowledges the diverse habitats which are incorporated within it, and he represents plants, animals and insects as vital elements of a complex and interconnected whole. In Wattle Pollen Time, 1974, he celebrates the transformation brought by the changing of the seasons, focussing attention on the glorious yellow wattles that flower in Australia during Spring. The colour of the wattle trees strikes a bold note against the earthy backdrop of this scene, and the pollen (less appealing to those who suffer seasonal allergies) washes across the pale, lower section of the image. Painted against a luminous grey-blue sky, the scene is full of energy and swirling movement which echoes Olsen’s natural, painterly technique. His perspective contributes to this sense of bustling activity, defying pictorial logic and propelling the viewer through the landscape, across, above and around it. Enabling us to see the country he depicts from every possible vantage point, Olsen encourages comprehension of its dynamic diversity.

Olsen’s fascination with the natural world in all its myriad forms has sustained a creative practice that now spans more than seven decades. His distinctive meandering line – which grew out of Paul Klee’s notion of drawing as ‘taking a line for a walk’ – has remained a key element of his pictorial language and, combined with exuberant mark-making and a mastery of colour, it has charted the countryside, the coast, deserts and even the city. Olsen’s paintings reflect a strong sense of place which has a distinct and immediately recognisable Australian sensibility. His contribution to Australian art has been widely acknowledged, from the Wynne Prize for landscape painting, awarded in 1969 and 1985, the Sulman prize in 1989, the Archibald in 2005 – for Self-portrait, Janus faced – and major exhibitions devoted to his art, most recently, the retrospective exhibition shown in Melbourne and Sydney in 2016 – 17.

1. Hurlston, D. & Edwards, D. (eds.), John Olsen – The You Beaut Country, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2016, p. 10