Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

Skip to content

Use Trove to find more resources by/about this Woman

  • Trove

Olley, Margaret (1923 - 2011)

Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), Companion of the Order of Australia, Centenary Medal for service to Australian society, Honorary Doctorate from the University of Queensland.

24 June 1923
Lismore, New South Wales, Australia
26 July 2011
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Artist and Painter


Margaret Olley is known as one of Australia's most prized interior and still life painters. She first came to public attention as the subject of Sir William Dobell's winning Archibald portrait in 1948. These days she is regarded as an Australian national treasure. In 1997 her work was the subject of a major retrospective organized by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Margaret Olley began her career painting sets for various theatre groups, before displaying her painting in exhibitions at Royal Queensland Art Society and the Under Thirties Group in Sydney. Her painting New England Landscape won the inaugural Mosman Prize in 1947.

Margaret later travelled to Europe where she studied art at La Grande Chaumiere in Paris and, in 1952, she exhibited a collection of favorably-reviewed paintings. She returned to Brisbane in 1953 and was commissioned by the Queensland Art Gallery to paint a mural of Paris' Place de la Concorde for an upcoming French art exhibition. She soon received commissions to paint murals in other Brisbane landmarks such as the Grosvenor and Lennon's hotels.

Since then, Margaret has travelled the globe gaining inspiration for her bold still-life paintings and viewing exhibitions of classic artists such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Miro and Manet. Margaret is regarded as a generous benefactor, having donated many of her works to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 1990, she established the Margaret Hannah Olley Trust to produce other artists' works for public donation. In 1994, Olley's generosity to the gallery was celebrated in the Great gifts,great patrons exhibition to which she donated works of Donald Friend, Arthur Boyd, Walter Sickert, Edgar, Duncan Grant and Mathew Smith.

Margaret has earned countless art prizes and awards for her many works shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide. In 2006 Margaret was elevated to Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for her service as one of Australia's most distinguished artists, her support and philanthropy to the visual and performing arts, and her encouragement of young and emerging artists. In 2007 she was appointed a Fellow of the National Art School.

Sources used to compile this entry: 'Margaret Olley', in Culture and Recreation Portal, Australian Government, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2008,; Bacon, Philip, 'Margaret Olley, Extract Biographical Notes', in Philip Bacon Galleries, Philip Bacon Galleries, Fortitude Valley Queensland 4006, 2007,; France Christine, 'Margaret Olley', in Dictionary of Australian Artists Online, Dictionary of Australian Artists Online, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2007,; 'Portrait of a life well lived', The Australian, 27 July 2011, p. 13; Queensland Government, 'Margaret Olley AC (1923 )', in Women's Contributions to Queensland, 1940-1949,, 2009,

Related entries

Lee Butterworth

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

© Copyright in The Australian Women's Register is owned by the Australian Women's Archives Project
and vested in each of the authors in respect of their contributions from 2000

The Australian Women's Register is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

The Australian Women's Register is published quarterly by the Australian Women's Archives Project
ISSN 2207-3124