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Australian art

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Margaret Olley



William Dobell

Australia, England

24 Sep 1899 - 13 May 1970


Loudon Sainthill had an exhibition opening, and on the invitation he had written: ‘Darling Oll, come dressed as a duchess’. I didn’t have anything to wear, so a friend gave me his grandmother’s wedding dress sleeves and helped me make an extravagant dress from ex-war supply parachute silk … Dobell said he’d like to paint a portrait of me, so I went to his flat the next week.

Margaret Olley, 1990

This is one of William Dobell’s finest and best-loved portraits, depicting his fellow artist and a beloved figure of Australian art, Margaret Olley. Echoing the spirit of Gainsborough and Renoir, this painting marked Dobell’s return to portraiture, for which he was awarded his second Archibald Prize.

Olley modelled for Dobell’s sketches in a plain dress with only a hat for ornament, but Dobell based his painting on the extravagant outfit the young artist had worn to an exhibition opening.

This painting won the Archibald Prize in 1948 and was acquired by the Gallery in 1949

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Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


114.3 x 85.7 cm board; 148.0 x 118.5 x 13.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l. corner, white oil "WILLIAM DOBELL 48".


Purchased 1949

Accession number


Archibald Prize

Winner - 1948

Artist information

William Dobell

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 25 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 75 publications


Brian Adams, Portrait of an artist: A biography of William Dobell, Melbourne, 1983, 235-239. plate no. 15

Adelaide Festival of Arts, The Third Adelaide Festival of Arts 1964: Souvenir programme, Adelaide, 1964, 42 (illus.). The caption reads: 'This painting is included in the exhibition of Famous Australians by Famous Australian Artists at the National Gallery of South Australia.', however, in the catalogue to the exhibition this work is not listed.

Herbert Badham, A gallery of Australian art, 'Introduction', pg. v-vii., Sydney, 1954, xii, xv, (colour illus.). plate no. 37

Herbert Badham, A study of Australian art, Sydney, 1949, (illus.). plate no. 69

Scott Bevan, Bill: the life of William Dobell, 'The place of much water', pg. 194-229, Cammeray, 2014, 303, 225, 240, 241 (colour illus.), 393.

Tony Bonyhady, The Australian's Review of Books, 'With heads held high', pg. 14-16, Sydney, Jun 1999, 15.

Professor Joseph Burke, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Art in Australia', pg. 10, Sydney, 04 Feb 1954, 10 (illus.).

Helen Campbell, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Sydney: city and hinterlands', pg. 185-186, Sydney, 2000, 186, 192, 193 (colour illus.), 300.

Louise Chamberlin, Art In Sight, Sydney, 1996, 141, 144, 145, 149, 151, 155, 171.

Betty Churcher, Australian notebooks, 'Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 45-90, Melbourne, 2014, 86 (colour illus.), 254. colour illustration detail opposite contents page

Betty Churcher, Hidden treasures with Betty Churcher: Episode 14, Canberra, 2007. Broadcast 24 May 2007 on ABC-TV at 6:50pm William Dobell's sketchbooks allow us to see the artist's unformed ideas gradually take shape and give us an insight into what Dobell wanted out of his paintings. Dobell's painting 'Margaret Olley' is featured, together with preliminary sketches and drawings in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

Yve Close, Joshua Smith: artist 1905-1995, 'The Archibald Prize', pg. 33-46, New South Wales, 1998, 41.

Glenn R. Cooke, The world of Antiques & Art, 'Margaret Olley: a tribute for her 80th year', pg. 24-34, Bondi Junction, Feb 2003-Jul 2003, 32.

Jonathan Cooper (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales Bulletin, 'William Dobell 1899-1970 The Painter's Progress', pg. 18-19, Sydney, Feb 1997-Apr 1997, 19 (colour illus.).

Our Staff Correspondent., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Our art is 'years behind'', Sydney, 17 Oct 1952, (illus.).

Anne Crawford, Age, 'Irrepressible "Oll"', pg. 1, 3., Melbourne, 05 Sep 2002, 1. In section 'TheCulture'.

Our Art Critic, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Dobell's portrait and a photo of Margaret Olley'; 'Rival of Dobell helped him win Archibald Prize; Work was nearly scrapped'; 'William Dobell's whirlwind portrait', pg. 3, Sydney, 22 Jan 1949, 3 (illus.).

Prue Davidson, Antipodes: antiques & fine art [vol. 1, no. 2], 'Truth and beauty: the portraits of William Dobell', pg. 35-43, Victoria, 1997, 39, 40 (colour illus.), 42, 43.

Rob Ditessa', Artist's palette, 'Icons on show', pg. 54-59, Sydney, 2000, 58 (colour illus.).

Elizabeth Donaldson and Robert Donaldson, William Dobell: his life, art and home, 'Tragic fate of artist Dobell', pg. 57-58, New South Wales, 2011, 57, 59 (colour illus.), 75, 85 (illus.), 136. NOTE: Illustration on page 85 is a panorama photograph of the 1964 Dobell Retrospective

Elizabeth Donaldson, William Dobell: an artist's life, 'Recovery at Wangi', pg. 93-109, New South Wales, 2010, 107, 108 (colour illus.), 109, 153 (illus.), 198 (colour illus.). NOTE: Illustration on page 153 is a panorama photograph of the 1964 Dobell Retrospective

Douglas Dundas, Art Gallery of New South Wales quarterly, 'The Wynne and Sulman prizes', pg. 53-56, Sydney, Jan 1961, 54.

Mary Eagle, A tribute to William Dobell, 'The Strength of Life', Canberra, 1999, 14, 16 (colour illus.), 17,19, 57.

Elizabeth Fortesque, Daily telegraph, 'Master strokes', pg. 124, Sydney, 22 Jul 2000, 124 (colour illus.). Review of the 'Australian Icons' exhibition.

James Gleeson, William Dobell, London, 1964, 88, 89 (colour illus.), 90. plate no. XIX

James Gleeson, The drawings of William Dobell in the Australian National Gallery, 'The draughtsman as artist', pg. 6-17, Canberra, 1992, 8 (colour illus.), 10-11, 54, 62. 4

Sasha Grishin, Australian art: a history, 'The triumph of modernism', pg. 264-273, Carlton, 2013, 270, 271 (colour illus.), 550, 559. plate no. 27.4

Janet Hawley, Good weekend, 'Queen of subjects', pg. 34-41, Broadway, 25 Mar 1995, 36, 37 (colour illus.), 38. Reproduction of Margaret Olley sitting amongst portraits of her painted by other artists, including William Dobell.

Peter Haynes (Compilator), Famous people: a selective who's who from works in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1981, 11 (illus.).

Anna Waldmann, The Archibald Prize: an illustrated history 1921-1981, Sydney, 1981, 225 (colour illus.).

Susan Hunt, The Archibald Prize 1921-1993, Sydney, 1993, 16 (colour illus.).

Jane Hylton, William Dobell: portraits in context, 'William Dobell: a brief biography', pg. 30-32, Kent Town, 2003, 30.

Glenis Israel, Artwise: visual arts 7-10, Milton, 2004, 23 (colour illus.), 24-25.

Glenis Israel, Art Wise - Visual Arts years 7-10, Queensland, 1997, 21, 34, 52, 118, 122, 126, 129, 146, 148.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 157 (colour illus.).

George H. Johnson, Sun, 'Dobell may settle in New Guinea', pg. 11, Sydney, 25 Oct 1949, 11.

Erik Langker, Art Gallery of New South Wales quarterly, 'The Archibald prize', pg. 51-56, Sydney, Jan 1961, 52 (illus.).

Tatlock Miller; 'Dobell finds his Mona Lisa'., Sun, 'Dobell wins both big art prizes' by Tatlock Miller; 'Difference on Dobell canvas'; 'Dobell and his model' [includes photograph of Dobell in his Kings Cross flat after winning the Archibald Prize, and inset photograph of Margaret Olley]; 'Dobell's portrait a masterpiece', Sydney, 22 Jan 1949, (illus.). page unknown, newspaper clipping in Worksheet files

J.S. MacDonald., Daily Mirror, 'Dobell's winning picture criticised', Sydney, 01 Mar 1949.

Ian McCausland (Editor), Mercury, 'Patricia gets into art of being a volunteer', pg. 1, Hobart, 06 Dec 1997, 1 (colour illus.).

Margaret Meagher (Editor), State of the arts, 'AGNSW polishes the silver', pg. 12, Sydney, Aug 2000-Dec 2000, 12 (colour illus.). Review of 'Australian Icons' exhibition.

Hal Missingham., Hemisphere: an Asian-Australian magazine, 'Paintings by Australian artists', Sydney, May 1957, 17 (illus.).

Hal Missingham, William Dobell, Brisbane, 1959. 32; not paginated

Hal Missingham, They kill you in the end, 'Trustees', pg. 24-44, Sydney, 1973, 37-38.

Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart, Favourites: Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart selections, Sydney, 2002. NOTE: No catalogue numbers; Margaret Olley selection.

Desmond O'Shaughnessy, Art and medicine: reminiscences & reflections of a retiring surgeon, 'Postlude', pg. 79-87, Melbourne, 1999, 85 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce, Margaret Olley, Sydney, 1996, 24 (illus.).

Barry Pearce, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'William Dobell', pg. 76-87, Sydney, 2000, 83-84, 86 (colour illus.), 87 (colour illus., detail).

Barry Pearce, William Dobell - the painter's progress, 'Introduction', pg. 9-22, Sydney, 1997, cover (colour illus., detail), 11, 74, 90, 91 (colour illus., detail), 92, 93 (colour illus.), 94, 143 (colour illus., detail), 144. 29a

Barry Pearce, The Weekend Australian, 'Time makes its judgment', pg. 2-3, Sydney, 12 Aug 2000-13 Aug 2000, 2 (colour illus.). This colour supplement is a 'Review Special' published for the 'Weekend Australian'. It consists of a four-page, colour wrap-around for the 'Weekend Australian Review'. 'The Australian' was the media sponsor for the AGNSW Exhibition 'Australian Icons', for the Olympic Arts Festival 2000.

Renée Porter, Margaret Olley: painter, peer, mentor, muse, 'Margaret Olley: a celebration of life in paint', pg. 8-89, The Rocks, 2017, 16, 18, 19 (colour illus.), 112.

Roland Pullen., Daily telegraph and daily news, 'Famous canvases in stricken freighter', Sydney, 29 Dec 1952. Reference to Australian artworks exhibited in the United States of America.

Stephen Rainbird, Breaking new ground: Brisbane women artists of the mid twentieth century, Brisbane, 2007, 6 (colour illus.), 7, 68.

Robin Robertson., The Weekend Australian financial review, 'ABN Amro teaches the art of "quiet" sponsorship', Sydney, 05 Aug 2000-06 Aug 2000, (colour illus.). page number unknown

Peter Ross, Let's face it: the history of the Archibald Prize, 'Chapter 3: The postwar years', pg. 38-60, Sydney, 2005, 38, 39 (colour illus.), 40, 138 (colour illus.).

Peter Ross, Let's face it: the history of the Archibald Prize, 'The Postwar Years', pg. 40-62, Sydney, 1999, 40, 41 (colour illus.), 128 (colour illus.).

Meryl Ryan, Well connected: Dobell and company, 'The journey', pg. 5-6, Lake Macquarie, 2001, 4 (colour illus.). 6

Geoffrey Scott., Bulletin, 'Dobell: retrospective, introspective', Sydney, 25 Jul 1964. Under section 'Out and about'.

Meg Stewart, Margaret Olley: far from a still life, Milsons Point, 2005, 201-204, between 302 & 303 (colour illus.), 303.

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, 'Spotlight on Olley', pg. 9, Sydney, Dec 2005-Jan 2006, 9 (colour illus., detail). Photograph of Margaret Olley and Barry Humphries standing in front of Dobell's portrait at the launch of Meg Steward's book about the artist.

Jill Sykes, Look, 'Playing favourites with the Archibald', pg. 18-21, Sydney, May 2002, 21 (colour illus.).

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, 'Australian modern masterpieces: from the Art Gallery of New South Wales 10 December 2011 - 4 March 2012', pg. 8-9, Sydney, Dec 2011-Jan 2012, 9 (colour illus.). Advertisement for Newcastle venue of the touring exhibition of Australian art from the AGNSW collection.

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, 'Ben, Margaret and the Archibald', pg. 10, Sydney, Jun 2011, 10 (illus.).

Laurence Thomas, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'William Dobell', pg. 3-5, Sydney, Oct 1959, cover (illus.), 3.

Laurie Thomas (Editor), Jubilee exhibition of Australian art, Sydney, 1951, 43. 127

Tony Tuckson, New South Wales Travelling Art Scholarship 1900 to 1956, Sydney, 1956, 8. 10

two votes'., Daily telegraph and daily news, 'Archibald Prize to Dobell, Sydney, 22 Jan 1949. page unknown, newspaper clipping in Worksheet files

Anna Waldmann, Art and Australia (Vol. 20, No. 2), 'The Archibald Prize', pg. 213-236, Sydney, Summer 1982, 225 (colour illus.).

Judith White, Australian art collector, 'Yours sincerely: William Dobell', pg. 56-59, Sydney, Apr 2000-Jun 2000, 59.

Margaret Whitlam, Uncommon Australians: towards an Australian portrait gallery, 'Margaret Olley', Sydney, 1992, 91 (colour illus.). 58

Kenneth Wilkinson., Daily telegraph and daily news, 'Sitter likes her Dobell portrait, but critics do not'; 'Dobell is streets ahead', Sydney, 23 Jan 1949, (illus.). page unknown, newspaper clippings in Worksheet files

Ross Woodrow, William Dobell: hard drawing, Newcastle, 2007, 8, 9 (colour illus.), 49, 69. NOTE: this work was not included in the exhibition.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Daily Mirror, 'Dobell's kick at high tax'; 'Dobell's picture is big draw at Art Gallery', Sydney, 22 Jan 1949.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Bulletin, 'Dobell's double', Sydney, 29 Jan 1949. Under section 'Sundry Shows'.

Author Unknown, William Dobell: the painters progress, Sydney, 1997, (illus.).