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Margaret Olley AC

1923 – 2011

Margaret Olley AO (1923-2011), painter, studied art at East Sydney Technical College and the Grande Chaumière in Paris. She was well known in the Sydney post war art scene and her portrait was painted by Drysdale and Dobell – Dobell’s painting won the 1948 Archibald Prize. Olley held her first one-person show that year. It was a sellout, and she held at least one solo exhibition annually from then on. In 1991 she reprised her success of 43 years before, when a show of thirty-five of her intimate, brilliantly coloured interiors and still lifes sold out again. The Art Gallery of New South Wales held a major retrospective show of her long career in 1996/7. Olley remained one of Sydney’s best-known arts identities to her death, curating an exhibition with Barry Humphries called ‘Favourites’ at the SH Ervin Gallery in 2002, continuing to paint, and posing for numerous portraits by younger artists she encouraged, including Nicholas Harding and Ben Quilty. In the 1980s she endowed the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust, of which several Australian galleries, including the National Portrait Gallery, have been beneficiaries. Quilty’s portrait of Olley won the Archibald Prize in 2011. Tweed River Art Gallery is currently building a reproduction of Olley’s studio and living space.

Updated 2018