Lyris Bartley has a drawing Margaret Olley did when she was 12.
Lyris Bartley has a drawing Margaret Olley did when she was 12. Jenna Cairney

Lyris sheds a tear for old friend

FOR 76 years Lyris Bartley has kept a notebook from French class at Somerville House, Brisbane.

Little did she know, at the tender age of 11, as she sat at the back of the class doodling and giggling, that her friend, who sketched a perfect depiction of Snow White’s Dopey from memory, would go on to become one of Australia’s best-known painters.

From her Guy St home Mrs Bartley said she almost cried this week to find out her schoolmate, Margaret Olley,had died, aged 88.

Though the girls were separated when Mrs Bartley moved to from Brisbane High School for Girls (BGHS) and Olley went to art school.

“I hadn’t spoken to her in years until I called her 18 months ago,” Mrs Bartley said.

“I rang her and didn’t get her the first time.

“When I rang again she said she had broken her leg and ‘how was I supposed to answer?’ That was Olley all over.

“She was a sweetie really and mischievous.”

Margaret Olley was said to be busy at the canvas until her final days and that’s exactly how Mrs Bartley remembers the artist, who was the recipient of numerous art prizes, holding more thnt 60 solo exhibitions throughout here life.

“She was one who devoted any spare time to her art,” Mrs Bartley said.

“At Somerville we would go to the playing fields on a Saturday, but not Olley, she would take her easel and stand on a hill.

“She did oil painting and I still remember this beautiful Jacaranda tree she did – I always wanted to paint one just like it, but never did.”

Olley had been completing work for a solo show due to open in September when she was found dead at her inner Sydney home in Paddington on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia was mourning the loss of a great artist and a true Australian national treasure.

In 1991, Olley was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service as an artist and for the promotion of art. In 2006, she was awarded Australia’s highest civilian honour, the Companion of the Order.

For Mrs Bartley, Olley painted always with her heart.

“I would look at her paintings when they came out and you could tell she put her heart and soul into each one,” she said.

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