Australian Artist Margaret Olley found dead at her home in Sydney ...
Tuesday 26 july 2011 - article by Isabel Hayes
Margaret Olley was not afraid of dying and her death in her own home was "the perfect way to end", her protege says.
Ben Quilty, the artist who portrayed the still-life painter in his award-winning Archibald prize entry this year, said he was "devastated" at the loss of his friend and mentor.
"I just spoke to her last night. She was her normal, bright self," an emotional Quilty told AAP on Tuesday. "I was going to see her tomorrow."
Olley, 88, was found dead at her home in Paddington, in Sydney's inner east, early Tuesday morning.
"It was the perfect way to end. She would have hated being attached to a machine in a hospital," Quilty said.
"Instead, she was in her home, her haven, I can't imagine a better end to her life."
He described Olley as a "modern, contemporary lady", tough and at times brutally honest, who just "wanted people to strive to be better".
"She was never fearful of death," he said.
"It was never a topic she shied away from. It was physically obvious to her that this was something she was about to deal with and she dealt with it with such grace."
NSW Art Gallery director Edmund Capon described Olley as "one of the most unforgettable people" he had ever met.
"I have never met anybody so rarely passionate, committed and yet always retaining a wry sense of the absurd that life inevitably presents to us," he said.
"She was probably the most politically incorrect person I knew. Margaret Olley brought a new dimension to the word individual."
Mr Capon said Olley was a true painter - "there was absolutely no other career for her" - who found beauty in humble things such as a bowl of fruit or flowers.
"We often talked about colour and what was her favourite colour. Her answer was swift and straightforward: 'green', she would say 'it's the colour of rebirth'."
Born in Lismore on June 24, 1923, Olley began painting as a girl at Somerville House boarding school in Brisbane, going on to become one of Australia's most respected still-life and interior artists.
She was also one of the country's most generous benefactors to public galleries, including the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art, and she held honorary doctorates from Macquarie, Sydney, Queensland and Newcastle universities.
"She was the last of a generation of empowering figures in Australian art," said Professor Colin Rhodes, dean of the Sydney College of Arts at the University of Sydney, which awarded her an honorary degree in 2000.
"Olley was a leader in that generation that brought home-grown Australian art to the rest of the world, but importantly to Australia itself.
"Although she lived to a grand old age, she never lost her relevance."
In 1948, Olley was the subject of William Dobell's 1948 Archibald prize-winner.
Attending the prize announcement for Quilty last April, she told reporters how proud she was of him.
"That second Archibald Prize win meant a lot to her," Quilty said on Tuesday.
Nicky McWilliam, director of her late mother's gallery Eva Breuer Art Dealer, said Olley's death was "a real loss for Australia".
In 1991, Olley was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service as an artist and for the promotion of art.
In 2006, she was awarded Australia's highest civilian honour, the Companion of the Order, for service as one of Australia's most distinguished artists, for philanthropy to the arts and for encouragement of young and emerging artists.
"It's such a great award. I'm overawed," Olley said at the time.
"I thought just judges and just very important people got it.