Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ben Quilty's portrait of Margaret Olley wins 2011 Archibald Prize

Ben Quilty's portrait of his friend, the highly esteemed painter Margaret Olley has won the Archibald Prize worth AUS$50,000.

I think it's an absolutely stunning portrait and a well deserved winner.  Apparently the striking colours of his palette were influenced by her home which is also her studio.

Ben Quilty Margaret Olley, Archibald Prize 2011 winner

The prize is Australia's oldest and most important prize for portraiture.  It was inaugurated in 1921 after a bequest from J. F. Archibald, the editor of The Bulletin which was an influential Australian magazine (1880-2008).

This is its 90th year and there were a total of 798 entries from which 41 finalists were selected for the exhibition.

Below is a video about the Prize.  It includes images of some of the portraits which became finalists and an interview with Ben Quilty talking about how he came to do the portrait.  It includes a great comment which I've observed myself again and again when looking at portraiture by various artists.  (I'll elaborate more when I get my review done of Martin gayford's book on Lucian Freud).
It really stands out when somebody does know the sitter.  If it's only about a one-off meeting to do a portrait then all it is is a likeness, there's nothing more.

This is a quote about Quilty's work from this essay Is The Truth Of Portraiture Vested Exclusively In Likeness?, Michael Desmond, 2006.
Quilty lays down meaty abstract slabs of paint, yet the individuality of his sitters, be they a friend or his infant son, emerges through characteristic pose or recognizable gesture.

This was Ben Quilty's seventh time as a finalist for the Archibald Prize.  He was previously a runner-up in 2009.  He's become a very popular painter in Australia

Quilty has previously won the $150,000 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, in 2009 for his portrait There But For The Grace Of God Go I No. 2 of Australian musician Jimmy Barnes.

He also won the $40,000 National Artists Self Portrait prize in 2007 for his painting Dead (Over the Hills and Far Away).

Archibald Prize 2011 regional tour

The Archibald Prize goes on tour after the exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which closes on 26 June 201.
Margaret Olley

88 year old prize-winning painter Margaret Olley paints interiors and still life in the brilliant colours which seem to be much loved by Australians.

Here are a few examples of Olley Still life paintings and an article about her which has a photo of her painting. She has had over 60 solo exhibitions in Australia and abroad since 1948 and she is still putting on exhibitions of her work!

Interestingly this is Olley's second time as the subject of an Archibald Prizewinning painting.  She was previously painted by William Dobell in 1948 - when he also won the Prize.

Margeret Olley is also a declared Australian National Treasure!
‘She’s such an inspiration,’ says Quilty. ‘She was a feminist ahead of her time. She’s vigorously passionate about social and political issues, as well as art, and is enormously compassionate. Margaret has such an infectious attitude to both life and death. Recently, I was amazed at how many new works she had on the go. She said to me, “I’m like an old tree dying and setting forth flowers as fast as it can, while it still can.” I thought that was such a powerful metaphor.’

Ben Quilty talking about Margaret Olley
I also really like this photographic portrait of Margaret Olley in her studio which is in the National Portrait Gallery of Australia.  I spot a characteristic pose!

I also much enjoyed Clive James writing about Margaret Olley - and you can also see some of her paintings which I assume he owns.



  1. Hi, your quote of an artist knowing the sitter shining through rings so true! Although not all portrait artists would agree I find it so much easier to paint someone I know well. The features I can visualise with my eyes closed and, like you wrote, everything else can come into play a lot quicker.

  2. What a stunning painting btw, by Ben Quilty!

  3. Congratulations to Ben Quilty and Margaret Olley. The strokes and colours are quite amazing. Like this painting took only a good 30 minutes.
    The video showed some other great work too.


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