Margaret Olley, Mossgreen Auction Celebrates Artist’s Life

A superb selection of simple and sensational works as well as significant decorative arts and jewellery belonging to the late and great Australian artist Margaret Olley AC (1923-2011) went on sale at Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2013.

The Sale of 318 lots conducted by Mossgreen Auctions of Melbourne who, in conjunction with Philip Bacon Galleries at Brisbane, produced the superb catalogue, achieved a record result.

TOTAL RESULT INC. BP: $624,823.00

All proceeds from the auction were pledged to benefit the Margaret Olley Art Trust, which is charged with continuing her support of the arts. There was lots of very spirited bidding, the Australian newspaper describing it as Olleymania.

Margaret Olley was quite literally the indomitable spirit of art in Australia for many generations. Her many interior paintings remain as an insightful and enduring legacy to a life well lived on her own terms and to the full.

“…it’s not fashionable these days to celebrate life. But I suppose that’s what I do… I have an absolute obsession to paint. I go to bed and I can’t wait to wake up and be painting again.”

Margaret Olley knew what she liked, what she wanted, embraced it and went out and made it happen. During her lifetime she was living proof of the power of one.

Her home likened by former Director of the Art Gallery of NSW Edmond Capon to an ‘archaeological tip’, was in reality a delightful studio apartment, which was always seemingly in creative artful chaos.

A central hub and magnet for artists, friends and visitors, it was very centrally situated at the back of a terrace house in Duxford Street at Paddington in Sydney.

Gazing through the catalogue was a visual delight.

It was wonderfully put together with love as a tribute to the lady herself.

For the many people who visited her, were invited to call her Margaret, or for those who simply admired the Olley from afar, the sale was a tour de force and a celebration of her life as an artist.

She would have been very be pleased.

The jewellery was all interesting, not of immense monetary value as jewellery goes but intrinsically wonderful.

There were some wonderfully select and special pieces. My favourite was the early Victorian steel marcasite cut metal star design necklace – stars for a real star, which sold for $4,636.00.

The main room Margaret Olley worked in on a daily basis was filled with light, suffused with colour, fine objects, precious textiles, bowls and bowls full of fabulous or faded flowers and fruit for her to paint, as well as wonderful and much loved antique pieces of furniture from the Georgian and Victorian eras.

J’adored Lot 20, the extraordinary Chinoiserie gilt and black lacquer chest on chest dating from 1820. Both beautiful and practical it sold for $15,860.00, seems like a bargain to me.

Margaret’s studio was always like an Aladdin’s cave, the central focus being the lady herself.

Her hair casually pinned up with combs while wisps strayed delightfully while framing a wonderful face full of character and wrinkles galore.

Her perceptive piercing eyes took in everything including cobwebs draped decorously about and on the Ming sculpture of a horse that she so loved. If she snapped your picture she was giving you a hint that she may just paint your picture.

In the main much of it, based on estimates, should attract the sentimental bidder who simply want to say they have something that once belonged to ‘The Olley’ and for that reason they should sell well.

The paintings have always attracted very spirited bidding and it was no different this time. In the years to come we will enjoy retrospectives and an increasing volume of written work about the lady and her life, which will ensure they are a sound investment for their new owners.

It’s ironic really that the auction was happening within a week or so of the death of one of her greatest mates, the artist Jeffrey Smart, with whom she had a special affinity.

They both represented a very appealing era in Australian art, which is now a thing of the past, gone but not forgotten.

To say that Margaret Olley’s famous lunches and dinners were predictable is to imply a certainly dull routine. Perish the thought! said Australian arts entrepreneur Leo Schofield.

For those who spent time with Margaret in her wonderful habitat she provided a very real insight into her remarkable inner and mental strength, revealing what beauty’s real essence is all about.

A simple painting of mandarins and a songbird painted in 1974, Lot 3 in the sale, sold for     $26,840.00.

It is perhaps a metaphor for the fruitful abundance she enjoyed as she listened happily to the music of her choice while she painted.

Lot 220, whose artist is unknown sold for $4,270.00. Just to have been on her walls it must have been a powerful memory for her of times past, a simple scene with a winding road leading off into that place still to be explored.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

Unknown Artist



Go to: to view a full list of results online

*Margaret Olley



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.