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Her work concentrated on still life. In 1997 a major retrospective of her work was organized by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She received the inaugural Mosman Art Prize in 1947.
Olley was twice the subject of an Archibald Prize winning painting; the first by William Dobell in 1948 and the other by Ben Quilty in 2011. She was also the subject of paintings by many of her artist friends, including Russell Drysdale.
On 10 June 1991, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, Olley was made a Member of the Order of Australia 'for service as an artist and to the promotion of art'. On 12 June 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 support and philanthropy to the visual and performing arts, and for encouragement of young and emerging artists'.
In 2006, Olley was awarded the degree Doctor of Fine Arts honoris causa by the University of Newcastle.
On 13 July 2006 she donated more works to the Art Gallery of New South Wales; her donations included more than 130 works worth $7 million. Olley died at her home in Paddington in July 2011, aged 88. She never married and had no children.
About the Author
Barry Pearce was born in 1944 in Adelaide, where he was educated, and began his art museum career at the Art Gallery of South Australia. From 1969 he lived in London, where he studied at the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings as a Harold Wright Scholar. On his return to Australia in 1975 he was appointed the first Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Gallery of South Australia; two years later he became Curator of Paintings at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In 1978 he was appointed Curator of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and later became Head Curator of Australian Art.
Over three decades there he has curated many exhibitions, including major retrospectives of the work of Sali Herman, Elioth Gruner, John Passmore, Donald Friend, Arthur Boyd, Brett Whiteley, Margaret Olley, Charles Conder, Sidney Nolan and Justin O'Brien, among others, each accompanied by publications which remain definitive texts in their field. He has written many other essays on aspects of Australian art for magazines, journals and catalogues, has lectured extensively, and has acted as an ambassador of Australian art in connection with various international projects.
Barry Pearce's most recent books with The Beagle Press are a monograph on Michael Johnson, a new edition of his book on Jeffrey Smart, and a new book on Margaret Olley. He retired from the Art Gallery of New South Wales in early 2011 but remains affiliated as its inaugural Emeritus Curator of Australian Art.