A Memorial to a Remarkable Woman


Margaret Olley

Margaret Olley

Margaret Olley was small and birdlike in stature but she was a giant in the art world. Her paintings of still life’s and interiors vibrated and glowed with warmth. Standing in front of them I could feel the atmosphere of a well-loved room.

The Yellow Room

The Yellow Room

In July 2011 she died at the age of 88 in her home in Sydney surrounded by her beloved art work and all her belongings. Painting to the very end she had just finished the last painting for another exhibition.

Margaret Olly art gallery pc 054_2490x3181

(To see the photos click here)

Australia lost a treasured artist.

In her will she left her house and ALL her possessions to the Tweed Valley Art Gallery. Margaret loved this beautiful area where she was born and grew up.

The Tweed Valley

The Tweed Valley, dominated by Mount Warning, an extinct volcano, today covered in a smoke haze.

Overlooking the Tweed River

Overlooking the Tweed River

The Gallery decided to recreate the house inside the gallery, it has been a mammoth project. Firstly a new wing had to be built and rooms the exact shape and size of the Sydney house constructed inside the new wing.

The new Margaret Olley Art Centre added onto the existing Art Gallery

The new Margaret Olley Art Centre added onto the existing Art Gallery

But that was straight forward compared with the next task. Recreating the inside of the house and studio that Margaret called home. She was a collector, a hoarder and never threw anything away. Everywhere, on shelves, tables, the floor, she left the remains of the objects that had been subjects for her still life paintings. Dead flowers wilted in vases, colourful artificial flowers clustered among baskets of rotting fruit, ornaments picked up from op shops, tubes of paint, old paint brushes in recycled tins, canvasses and books stacked on the floor. It was cluttered splendour of a life’s dedication to art.

Every single item had to be catalogued, then a photo record taken of the position of ALL these “things” right down to the cigarette in the ashtray. Next the packing and transporting to the Tweed Gallery. That was just the start, now the challenge was to recreate the inside of the house exactly, lovingly and carefully.

3 years later in February 2014 the task was completed.

Now I am back home we drove,  with anticipation and two friends, to see this memorial wing to the art and times of Margaret Olley.

The entry doors to the Gallery, depicting Margaret Olley's art

The entry doors to the Gallery, depicting Margaret Olley’s art

What an amazing experience to be transported into the world of this exceptional artist.

The curtains show their age as they hang dilapidated and disintegrating

The curtains show their age as they hang dilapidated and disintegrating

Dawn of “a lingering look at windows” inspires us each week to show interesting windows we have found.

The original windows and doors added authenticity as I peered into this cluttered space. Classical music flowed from an old transistor radio perched among the tubes of paint.

Margaret Olly art gallery pc 064_1984x1488

Margaret Olly art gallery pc 045_4000x3000

Look around, note all the “things”, over 20000 of them, that had been taken, piece by piece, photographed in place, then returned to the same spot to recreate this home that is redolent with the essence of a great and eccentric person who lived, breathed and created superb art works in this space. She said “this is my home, but first and foremost it is my studio”

In the bottom photo look carefully and you will see the small round table with a light over it. That is where Margaret would sit with her Masonite canvas balanced on her knee, resting on the table and that is how she painted.


 The kitchen is small, almost a cubby hole, but many dinners were created here in the past, she was a good and creative cook, but in later years she lost interest in cooking and visitors would bring their own food.

Follow round to the next window and there is the yellow room that features in so many of the paintings

Margaret Olly art gallery pc 053_3000x4000

Margaret Olly art gallery pc 051_4000x3000

This is the last picture Margaret painted of the yellow room

This is the last picture Margaret painted of the yellow room

 Being a triptych it is also the largest she painted. Notice how very closely it resembles the yellow room in the photo above, that is how it was when she died.

A 45 minute  free gallery tour, with a very knowledgeable guide, highlighted the many unique aspects of the items on show, including stories and anecdotes from Margaret Olley’s rich and passionate life.

Now it was time for lunch. The café/restaurant has been enlarged and the views are superb from all the decks. The food matched the overall excellent standard of this world-class art gallery. Prawns in tempura batter and a light noodle and cucumber salad for me and Samosa in a crisp, light filo pastry and green salad for Jack.

The view across the Caldera valley.

The view across the Caldera valley.

The gallery had a number of other exhibits showing, all so different, but all needing time to study the techniques from realistic paintings of flora and fauna of this Tweed Valley Caldera area

Caldera Art 2014

Dailan Pugh
oil on canvas

to fascinating lino cuts featuring almost full size portraits of Captain Cook. The detail was unbelievable. I have tried very basic lino cuts at school as a 12/13-year-old and could understand how many hours of careful dedicated work had been put into these art works.

The Prince the Tiger and a Toad

“Rew Hanks is a Sydney based printmaker whose intricate linocuts are a combination of dry wit, satire and hard hitting imagery which engage social, political and environmental issues. His narratives are amongst the most complex and challenging in contemporary Australian printmaking.”

A collection of art work from children aged 5 to 12 with the brief to depict how they saw life in 500 years time. Very interesting interpretations.

In complete contrast another room held a rather sombre and macabre selection of print works that were the collaboration between artist, writer and print maker.

Hearsay Euan Macleod, Lloyd Jones and Ron McBurnie

“The works were created collaboratively in response to a fascinating story that Jones heard at a writer’s festival. The historic narrative described mass suicides by the members of Balinese royal houses, prompted by the arrival of Dutch ships on the horizon. “Seeing the end of the world as they had known it had apparently driven hundreds of people to walk en masse into the seas, and drown”, Jones writes.”

Finally I will leave Jack to describe his favourite part of the gallery. It was another very unique display and Jack joined in with the hands on interactive fun. Go over and see what he got up to.

This is a one of the best art galleries, outside the main cities, that we have visited and I would urge any one coming to this Goldcoast area to seek it out. It is not easy to find being tucked away behind the charming small town of Murwillumbah, but the drive to find it is worth the trouble, and can be even more of an adventure if you get lost, as all the scenery and villages around this Tweed Valley area are delightful.

Categories: Australia, Margaret Olley Art Centre, New South Wales, photos, travel, Tweed Valley Art Gallery | Tags: , , , , | 37 Comments

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37 thoughts on “A Memorial to a Remarkable Woman

  1. Murwillumbah here I come! (In July). I had no idea about this gallery, and I’d forgotten Olley’s connection with the Tweed area. Your landscape and interior photos are wonderful. Thank you for alerting me to this post, something Reader failed to do. I’ll bookmark it for revisits.


  2. Amazing artist… Many thanks for sharing her story and all of her art.. 🙂


  3. j

    Its a funny thing we took our friends from Tassie, when we had finished I felt like weeping, Gold Coast Art Centre are not happy the Murwillumbah Art Gallery got it but they did not have room anyway, I have never seen such a good display.


    • Thank you J for commenting. The gallery have captured the spirit of Margaret Olley in the way they have set up this display. I think it is more relevant that she donated all her belongings to the Tweed Gallery and they have done such a marvellous job of the display, it is a hidden gem.


  4. Wow, this is fascinating. Fascinating that they recreated her home like they did. Fascinating that she was who she was. It’s all just fascinating and you presented it fascinatingly well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great post.Thank you so much for sharing about this wonderful artist, wonderful, colorful fabulous!!


  6. It is difficult to do this art gallery justice Pauline but you have done well..
    I think anyone seeing this post will be inspired to visit.
    Thanks for the link to my post on our visit there.
    I was pleased to reciprocate with a link in my post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love to hear about extraordinary women, especially of her generation. Those free spirits paved the way for those of us who followed.

    I am adopting her quote on dusting. But I found the amount of clutter in her home a bit oppressive. So very much stuff … And her yellow room paintings, in contrast to the clutter, give a wonderful sense of order and serenity. Maybe she just saw through the clutter.

    Wonderful post. Thanks.


    • The guide told us that when she painted she was totally focused on the scene in front of her, so I guess she never looked at all the other things. I’m a compulsive tidier upper I couldn’t live in that space, but my friend said she was going home to put more of her stuff out of cupboards and onto shelves, she is an artist too…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, you wouldn’t have to worry about housework in a place like that! And interestingly her painting of the ‘Yellow Room’ looks infinitely tidier than the reality. Such an interesting post PP – I enjoyed reading this one very much.


  9. poppytump

    This was a terrific read with added links Pauline . I loved looking at her colourful art works and those pictures of her totally beautiful *aesthetic mess* as Greg Weight put it .. A free spirit she may have been as she put it , but sad also to hear she was held ransom in other ways to battling with episodes of depression and alcoholism .. seems to me that her creativity and love of painting coupled with her generous nature amongst other things is what kept her on track to the end . A great lady indeed. What a project and undertaking that was to recreate her home . I’m not a bit surprised to hear you’ll be wanting to go back time and time again for another look 🙂


    • We spent 5 hours in the gallery and still didn’t see it all. We are lucky to have it only a half hour drive away. I will be going back…


  10. oh wow I did not expect this today – just fed the dogs and this is my first read of the day – and what a great post. I like his you included the note from Greg Weight – and his words (like “hive of activity”) really added something to the depth of this artists life and work – but I kept thinking how Divine it was that he was doing a shoot for her – what timing and what way to go….
    also, cheers to the museum for recreating her space exactly as it was – crazy that there was thousands of items and that she knew where they all were – and I kept studying each picture because when someone lives in an “art hive” like this – well we can feel so much about them from every item and where it was kept (which I am sure is why such care was given to this recreation).

    also, when you mentioned that the museum had other exhibitions, the art side of me was curious and my mind instantly wondered what they were – and Pomme, here is where your smooth posting comes in – you then gave us a sample. First the lunch view and then just for a fast of the other exhibits – we get a small of three very diverse pieces – and THANK YOU for that – and okay, now I need to watch the ending video and then pop on over to the Jack link you gave us –
    lovely tribute to Margaret Olley!! ❤ ❤ ❤ peace

    Liked by 1 person

    • I knew you would love this gallery Yvette. It is a real gem. When I am home I go often. They change their exhibits regularly and they are always thought provoking and always a variety of subjects and styles, so something to interest everyone. I also like that on some of the works they put explanations or artists comments on their art, it gives an insight into their vision of the art. Fantastic place…

      Liked by 1 person

      • cool that you get to go often! and I also like when they give us notes and comments to go with the art – it seems like it should be standard protocol to do so… 🙂 thx for a great post ❤ ❤ ❤
        "artistically inclined" Y
        I still love that adjective you gave me !

        Liked by 1 person

  11. oh my goodness! what a gift you both have given us today, and how lucky that i spent last night in a hostal where the internet is fast and i have the luxury of enjoying these posts! what an amazing woman, and how great it is that they have preserved her life as if she were out back snipping a few flowers for a nosegay!

    the pingback arrived for jack’s post, and i’m so happy to have a double dose of inspiration.

    but back to this post – wow, seeing that house and the overdose of visual items to absorb…. wow! thanks for capturing the entire experience so well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lisa this is an experience that you would love. What an artist, her whole life dedicated to her marvellous creations. I stood just gazing into those rooms almost impossible to absorb it all, and with the old transistor playing her favourite music it was as if she would be back any minute.


  12. A fascinating insight into the way Margaret lived and produced her paintings. I love all the colour with she surrounded herself. Thanks for sharing. Lovely post, Pauline. 🙂


  13. Wow, what a great idea! Such a painstaking project, it looks an absolutely fascinating place to visit…. I loved reading this post


  14. Pingback: A Fantastic Art Gallery. | jacksjottings

  15. she reminds me of you~


  16. What a fascinating artist, pommepal! And what a fascinating room – art-clutter. I can imagine getting lost in there, looking and touching and admiring. It’s exactly the sort of interesting room an interesting woman might have, I think.


    • The story goes that she knew just where everything was and she was sharp as a tack to the end. Amazing when I struggle to remember where I put any thing and my small granny flat is “reasonably” tidy…

      Liked by 2 people

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