Menzies Art Brands



Margaret Olley was a widely loved figure who balanced a highly regarded artistic career spanning more than six decades with an active role as a generous and tireless benefactor. She was also able to garner public affection in a way that extended well beyond the confines of the artistic community.

Despite her longevity and enduring reputation, Margaret Olleys life was in a state of constant flux, a fact she attributed to constantly moving during her childhood, noting that it
prepared me well for the kind of existence as an artist that would unfold for me.1

The ever-resourceful artist described her life in the early 1970s as living in a basket, because during this period she divided her time between Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle, devoting her considerable energies to renovating her properties there.2 She was also an avid traveller, visiting such locations as Paris, Bali, Kathmandu and Tehran.

This period was also a time of great sadness, marked by the final illness of Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) and the deaths in 1970 of close friends and fellow artists William Dobell (1899-1970),
Jon Molvig (1923-1970) and David Strachan (1919-1970). From 1972 Olley painted in Strachans uninhabited Paddington house when her own became too cramped.

The poignancy of these events was tempered by the rekindling of her relationship with Sam Hughes and her encounter with Philip Bacon, who was to establish his Brisbane gallery in 1974 and go on to become her friend and long-term dealer.
Margaret Olley had a talent for capturing the everyday and Still Life with Lilies and Agapanthus 1973 features many of the standard flowers found in a European-style garden. Interestingly, this work appears to feature the same blue-ringed jug as depicted in Hawkesbury Wildflowers and Pears circa 1973, which is housed in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, although the current work is more closely focussed on the jug and its contents than on its surroundings.

Still Life with Lilies and Agapanthus is sparer than many of the artists compositions, being remarkably free of the detritus which she had accumulated over many years in her much photographed home in Duxford Street Paddington, the studio of which has been recreated at Tweed Regional Gallery. In the current work, the artist relies on a single fallen agapanthus flower to provide a splash of colour on the table, of which we see only a small portion.

The artist spoke of her still life works in theatrical terms, stating that during the painting process she would move the elements around like characters on a stage.3 To further employ the same theatrical metaphor, one could say that this comparatively spare work can be conceived of as an elegant play for one actor rather than an energetic performance by an ensemble cast.

Olleys paintings are very much a record of the moment and in Still Life with Lilies and Agapanthus the artist captures the blooms at their fullest, just before they begin to drop. The single fallen flower serves as a type of memento mori indicating that this moment cannot endure beyond the life span of the flowers, except in the artists painted depiction of it.

Moreover, the relatively cool palette and use of shadow appears to indicate a quiet corner, giving this painting a stillness and a simplicity sometimes lost amongst the parade of objects inhabiting Olleys works.
This charming mid-career domestic scene captures this much loved artists instinctive response to the world around her.

Still Life with Lilies and Agapanthus (1973) is also a poignant reminder of the artists enduring talent for observation.

1. Pearce, B., Margaret Olley, Roseville, The Beagle Press, 2012, p.26
2. Pearce, pp.238-239
3. Pearce, p.21

Anne Phillips BA (Hons), MA

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