Margaret Olley / Australia 19232011/ Interior IV 1970 / Oil on composition board / 121.5 x 91.5cm / Gift of the Margaret Olley Art Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2002 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Margaret Olley

Margaret Olley
Interior IV 1970

Not Currently on Display

At Margaret Olley’s 1970 exhibition at the Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane, she introduced interior paintings for the first time, including 12 large works based on the interiors of her family home, ‘Farndon’, at 15 Morry Street, Hill End, Brisbane. The sitting room of ‘Farndon’ was described by close friend Pamela Bell as one of the most beautiful she had ever seen. It was a well-loved room, comfortable and unpretentious. The chintzes were worn and mended, and the furniture came from family collections and Olley’s years in the antique business.

The paintings depicted are by the artist or selected from friends and are carefully placed in a prominent position. The New Guinea masks and ceramics were chosen by the artist on one of her three trips there, and the chairs are upholstered in velvet with bright fabric-covered cushions from her close friend Ronald Sabien’s decorating shop in Musgrave Road, Red Hill, Brisbane.

Margaret Olley was born in 1923 in Lismore, New South Wales. Her family moved to Tully in North Queensland and to Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales before she was sent to board at Somerville House, a prominent private girls’ school in South Brisbane. There, with the mentorship of art mistress Caroline Barker, she was inspired to consider a career in art.

She enrolled briefly at the Brisbane Technical College and completed her training in 1945 at the East Sydney Technical College. Her first solo exhibitions were held in 1948, at the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney and the Moreton Galleries, Brisbane. Olley’s growing popularity made her an attractive subject for artists, and William Dobell’s portrait of Olley in the 1948 Archibald Prize caused a sensation. In 1949 she travelled to England, studied at La Grande Chaumière in Paris in 1950 and she also travelled to Italy, Spain and Portugal. Olley held exhibitions at the Redfern Gallery, London and the Galerie Paul Morihien, Paris in 1952.

When she returned to Australia, Olley established herself in Brisbane, living at her mother’s home in Morry St, Hill End. In 1959 she opened an antique shop in the inner suburb of Buranda. She later purchased a terrace house and an adjacent former hat factory in Duxford St, Paddington in Sydney, which she renovated to use as her studio. This house became almost as famous as the artist herself, featuring richly coloured walls and packed with thousands of objects, many appearing in her still-life paintings. She retained the family home in Brisbane, although the house was sadly destroyed by fire in 1980, resulting in the loss of many of Olley’s early works, photographs, and objects from her travels.