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Margaret Olley (1923-2011) Cornflowers and Pears, 1993 image 1
Margaret Olley (1923-2011) Cornflowers and Pears, 1993 image 2
Thumbnail of Margaret Olley (1923-2011) Cornflowers and Pears, 1993 image 1
Thumbnail of Margaret Olley (1923-2011) Cornflowers and Pears, 1993 image 2
Lot 40
Margaret Olley
Cornflowers and Pears, 1993
29 August 2023, 19:30 AEST

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Margaret Olley (1923-2011)

Cornflowers and Pears, 1993
signed lower right: 'Olley'
oil on board
69.0 x 92.0cm (27 3/16 x 36 1/4in).


Phillip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
Private collection, Sydney
thence by descent
Private collection, New South Wales

Margaret Olley, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 10 September 1993, cat. 11

Margaret Olley's still life paintings exude a calm stillness and appear as an homage to the inherent beauty of simple things. Cornflowers and Pears is part of a succinct group of still life paintings from arrangements which Olley assembled atop her kitchen benches, creating still life compositions using familiar jugs and compotes to display her beloved flowers, fruits and vegetables. In these works she sought an evenness of tone and subtle colour harmonies all bathed in a soft morning or evening light.

Blue and white china was one of Margaret Olley's many passions and it appeared with increasing regularity in her paintings. Sometimes she painted a solitary jug collected on one of her many journeys overseas and amassed with cut flowers, and at other times, she would depict an entire kitchen scene replete with her cluttered collection as a celebration of the humble tableware. Cornflowers and Pears features a particular jug, which appears in numerous works from this period. A tall fluted receptacle with pleasing vertical blue lines and a robust handle, it is both ordinary and beautiful in its intrinsic humbleness. Olley also incorporates another of her favoured formal devices, the window onto the world beyond, which also acts as a source of natural light illuminating the scene before us.

As her friend and admirer Edmund Capon observed of the artist, 'Still-lifes and interiors are her metier, and Margaret Olley is a part of that tradition, from Vermeer in the seventeenth century to Morandi in the twentieth century - two of her most admired artists - which finds inspiration, beauty and a rich spirit of humanity in the most familiar of subject matter.' 1 She was a great arranger of her renowned household 'clutter', most of which was collected on her numerous painting and study trips overseas through Europe, Asia and Oceania. From such a tangle of memento and divers keepsakes she was able to pare back and edit her arrangements so that a balance and harmony was attained leaving only form, colour and light to shape the composition. Not only did she approach her subject with great sensitivity and appreciation for the unassuming beauty of the objects portrayed, she was able to capture a sense of silence and timelessness that resonates throughout her works.

1. Edmund Capon, as quoted in Barry Pearce, Margaret Olley, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1996, p. 7

We gratefully acknowledge the kind assistance of The Olley Project, courtesy of The Margaret Olley Trust and Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, in cataloguing this work.

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