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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Head study for portrait of Margaret Olley, 1994

Jeffrey Smart

pencil on paper (frame: 66 cm x 52 cm, sheet: 39.0 cm x 29.0 cm)

Margaret Olley AC (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 forty-three 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 1996–97. 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 2000, continuing to paint, and posing for numerous portraits by younger artists she encouraged, including Nicholas Harding and Ben Quilty, whose big, rough portrait of her won the Archibald Prize in 2011. In the 1980s she endowed the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust, of which several Australian galleries, including the National Portrait Gallery, have been beneficiaries. In 2014, Tweed River Art Gallery opened a meticulous permanent reconstruction of Olley’s studio and living space, just as it appears in this photograph.

Jeffrey Smart (1921–2013) made this drawing in preparation for the 1995 painting Margaret Olley in the Louvre Museum, now in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In notes he made about the composition of the painting, which is dominated by a long wooden screen, he wrote ‘How to pull the eye over to the left with a darker tonal figure? What better eye-catcher than Margaret Olley?’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Bequest of Nick Enright AM 2004

Accession number: 2004.15

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Jeffrey Smart (age 73 in 1994)

Margaret Olley AC (age 71 in 1994)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner

Portraits for Posterity

Previous exhibition, 2006

Drawn from some of the many donations made to the Gallery's collection, the exhibition Portraits for Posterity pays homage both to the remarkable (and varied) group of Australians who are portrayed in the portraits and the generosity of the many donors who have presented them to the Gallery.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.