Menzies Art Brands



Margaret Olleys most well-known and best loved paintings are undoubtedly her still life works throughout her life, the artist had the ability to create beautifully crafted tableaux from the objects which she lived with. Her home, which has been recreated at the Tweed Regional Art Gallery, was a constant source of inspiration and provided the backdrop for many of her best still life works. The subject matter which Olley worked with was always a combination of items from both the natural and man-made worlds: flowers, pottery, textiles, fruit and vegetables. The palette of her works varied from vivid, bright primary colours to muted, softer tones Olley masterfully combined these to create her unique interior scenes which are now an important part of Australian art history.

Flannel Flowers and Onions was painted during the 1970s, a particularly happy and productive period for Olley. The artist had purchased a former hat factory and terrace house on Duxford Street in the Sydney suburb of Paddington where she was living with her great love, Sam Hughes. The couple used the home as a base when they stayed in Sydney between their travels before Hughes tragically passed away in 1982. Olley renovated the house and created a studio which she worked in up until her death in 2011. Over the years, Olleys studio accumulated an extensive collection of treasures gathered by the artist on her travels Olley travelled widely through Asia, Europe and America and the objects she collected along the way inspired the distinctive aesthetic of her oeuvre.

Flannel Flowers and Onions c1976 demonstrates Olleys ability to create harmonious combinations of objects from the collection which co-habited the artists domestic space. Here, a vase of flannel flowers draws the viewers eye to the back left-hand side of the composition, placed in an earthenware vase with a stem of bush fuschia. In the middle, Olley has placed a bowl of white-skinned onions, with two lying outside the bowl in the traditional still-life manner. To the left of the flowers stands a small, emerald green Chinese vase painted with butterflies and to the right is a bright, blue and white striped vase. These two objects colourfully bookend the composition, with the bowl of onions providing a central point for the viewers gaze.

Olleys success as a painter of still life was a result of her ability to create these carefully constructed tableaux what set her apart from painters working in the same genre was the manner in which she chose objects that came together to create beautiful, uniquely Australian arrangements that possessed a sense of familiarity. Olley favoured native flowers and the majority of her still life works feature Australian wildflowers the use of these distinctive blooms gives the painting a characteristic quality that is uniquely Olley.

In her paintings the objects of her, and our, cluttered domesticity are transferred into quiet and lasting moments of contemplation and subtle, and equally lasting beautymaybe there is a slight flavour of nostalgia, of a certain comfort and familiarity, they reveal a wealth of human experience in the prosaic. Her art is not about subject: it is about the experience of painting.1

1. Capon E., Margaret Olley: Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries exhibition catalogue, Sydney, 1997, p.5

Caroline Jones BA, MA (Arts Admin.)

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