Margaret Olley's executors bestow generous bequest on NSW art gallery

Date: Nov 17, 2011

One of Australia's best known still life painters left a million dollar bequest to a regional gallery as part of a display that has been described as cultural "gold".

Margaret Olley was an artist born in Lismore NSW on June 24 1923, who spent most of her professional career recreating her immediate environment - shunning contemporary art movements in preference for her own unique style.

She passed away in her Paddington home in July at the age of 88.

It was Olley's express wish that her most beloved works - along with a collection of books, furniture, vases and curios she had collected over the years - would be archived in a purpose-built display that replicated her working environment.

In a recent development the co-executors of her estate - including art scholar Edmund Capon, biographer Christine France, art dealer Philip Bacon and accountant Tom Lowenstein - have finalised an agreement with the Tweed River Gallery in Murwillumbah that will see the artist's Paddington studio recreated in meticulous detail in a new extension at the venue.

The installation will involve cataloguing and archiving the creative space in Olley's old residence before it is packed up and reassembled at the new location.

To help facilitate the construction of the wing $1 million will be made available to the regional gallery - funded entirely by the painters estate.

Speaking on the bequest, Tweed River Gallery director Susi Muddiman said that the exhibition was "gold" in terms of generating public interest.

"We know already from the success of the Archibald Prize, with the portrait of Margaret being the winner of this year's prize and attracting 28,500 people in 30 days, what her appeal is," said Muddiman.

"It will just attract people from near and far."

The estate planning process was not all smooth sailing - with the initial plan to house Olley's works in her home town of Lismore failing to receive the green light from the local council.

She had previously expressed an interest in funding the construction of a new regional arts centre in the district but was unable to bring her plans to fruition.

The Margaret Olley Trust had been set up by the artist to facilitate the funding of public art donations - with her property settlement agreements stating that it was her express with that "her studio and elements of her home and collection be recreated in a suitable venue".