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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Margaret Olley - Australia's Favourite Artist

Tributes have been flowing for Margaret Olley since her death at home in Paddington on Tuesday morning. She was 88. Her family have accepted the offer of a memorial service at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where she spent many happy hours and donated millions of dollars worth of art.

She studied art in Sydney and graduated with honours in 1945 and fell into Sydney’s bohemian arts scene. In 1949 she went to Europe and studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris before returning home to Australia.

She was a very shy young woman and to gain confidence in the artistic circles she moved in, she began to drink alcohol and soon became dependent on it. In 1959 she entered a rehab clinic and using the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step plan, she kicked the habit, went on the wagon and never touched alcohol again.

Ms Olley has donated more than $7 million in art to the Art Gallery of NSW including works by Picasso, Cezanne and Bonnard and many of her own paintings. In 2001 she suffered from depression brought on by the death of close friends but with the aid of medication and help from the Black Dog Institute, she regained her zest for life with renewed enthusiasm. Normally very reserved about personal matters, around this time she reveals the difficult, private moments of her life in her biography “Far from a Still Life” by Meg Stewart which was released in 2005.

In 1948, William Dobell won the Archibald Prize using Margaret as a model. Sixty three years later artist Ben Quilty also submitted a portrait of Margaret for the Archibald. When he first asked her to sit for him she said no, she couldn’t believe anyone would want to look at an ugly old lady. And when the portrait was finished she looked at it and said “Yes, there’s the old bag.” How fitting then that this grand old lady’s portrait won the coveted Archibald Prize for 2011 - that's twice in one lifetime.