Margaret OLLEY, White still life Enlarge 1 /1

Margaret OLLEY

Lismore, New South Wales, Australia 1923 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 2011

  • France, England 1949-53

White still life 1977 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on composition board oil on hardboard

Primary Insc: signed lower left: 'Olley'
Dimensions: 66.3 h x 89.2 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Wayne Kratzmann 2012. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
Accession No: NGA 2012.1285
Image rights: On behalf of the Estate of Margaret Olley

The late Margaret Olley is a much-loved Australian painter celebrated for her luminous still lifes and interiors. White still life 1977 is a striking work that balances light and dark, precision and softness. A variety of objects have been carefully selected and placed in the composition—the constructed forms providing the containers for the casual arrangements of flowers and cluster of delicate eggs. The richly varied tones in the still life are suggestive of what may constitute ‘white’ set on a table against a window and the dark night sky.

The work was undertaken during a period of intensive exploration of form, when Olley was restricting her colour palette and experimenting with effects of light over differing times of the day. Characteristically, with her precise brushstrokes and a highly considered arrangement of light, tone and texture, Olley has transformed everyday household items into objects of beauty and grace. At the same time, there is an intriguing sense of mystery in this work, accentuated by the stillness and the night view beyond.

In her monograph on the artist, Christine France discusses Olley’s experimentation in the mid to late 1970s with night-time and the reversal of the traditional depiction of light shining through a window. France describes the impact of the darkness as heightening ‘the viewer’s perception of the actual objects and their spatial relationships’ in Olley’s shallow, closely defined picture plane. As a great admirer of European works by artists such Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi, she recognised the poetry of the life of objects. This gift of one of Margaret Olley’s most important works is a great addition to the national art collection.

Deborah Hart Senior Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920


in artonview, issue 75, Spring 2013

Margaret Olley is a much loved Australian painter celebrated for her luminous still lifes and interiors. White still life is a striking work that balances light and dark, precision and softness. A variety of objects have been carefully selected and placed in the composition—the constructed forms providing the containers for the casual arrangements of flowers and cluster of delicate eggs. The richly varied tones in the still life are suggestive of what may constitute ‘white’ set on a table against a window and the dark night sky.

The work was undertaken during a period of intensive exploration of form, when Olley was restricting her colour palette and experimenting with effects of light over differing times of the day. Characteristically, here, with her precise brush strokes and a highly considered arrangement of light, tone and texture, Olley has transformed everyday household items into objects of beauty and grace. At the same time there is an intriguing sense of mystery in this work, accentuated by the stillness and the night view beyond.

In her monograph on the artist, Christine France discusses Olley’s experimentation in the mid to late 1970s with night-time and the reversal of the traditional depiction of light shining through a window. France describes the impact of the darkness as heightening ‘the viewer’s perception of the actual objects and their spatial relationships’ in Olley’s shallow, closely defined picture plane. As a great admirer of European works of artists like Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi, Olley recognised the poetry of the life of objects.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014