27 July, 2011

Country Towns-2

Patsy and I enjoy visiting art galleries, and so it was with interest that we noted in The Age an advertisement that the finalists of the Archibald Prize 2011 would be on display at the Tarrawarra Winery during July. We decided to view the paintings, and so we booked accommodation at Healesville for two nights; a short car drive of 1.5 hours from home.

After lunch at the Grand Hotel,Yarra Glen, we drove to Healesville and settled into our accommodation, and relaxed by reading, and in the evening we looked at a DVD titled The Fighter. A rather cool night was counterbalanced by the welcoming sunshine of the morning. Prior to setting off for Marysville, we wandered along both sides of the shopping-strip and observed on many shop windows a display of paintings by local artists from all age groups, and which had been entered in a competition humourously titled Not the Archies. A supplementary statement for each portrait provided a profile of a Healesville resident .

Our visit to Marysville was tinged with sadness for it was in May 1959 where we spent the first two nights of our honeymoon, and which over many years we had visited from time to time, and from where I had embarked on cycling and bushwalking activities. This sleepy hollow was significantly devastated by the February 2009 bush-fires. We observed that it will be many years before Marysville will have some semblance of its former ambience of a small town in which one can relax amidst the beauty of nature. As we were leaving the town, we noted that the quaint but small old style wooden Catholic Church had been temporarily replaced by a portable building with prominent windows.

Tarrawarra Winery is about 2 km from Healseville, and its art gallery is located in an impressive building on a hill, a short way up from the car park. 

I was relieved to find that no provision had been made for groups to be ushered around by an art afficionado who talks in an pompous manner about the artist's painting. I find noise from such groups to be a distraction as I prefer to quietly reflect on the qualities of the paintings. We were grateful that books in each of the three rooms were available for patrons to read about the artists and the subjects of their paintings.

Ben Quilty was awarded the Archibald Prize for his stunning painting of the renowned Margaret Olley. We were fascinated by the artist’s style in which the portrait is achieved by the artist applying heavy slatherings of paint. A similar style could also be seen with the painting of  Hugo Weaving, Hugo at home, by  Nicholas Harding.

Click on photos for larger version

For the visitors’ prize Patsy voted for the painting of Her excellency, Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor General of Australia, The country’s woman by Barbara Tyson, and I voted for Andrew Mezei’s painting of Professor Penny Sackett, astronomer and physicist.

I was really fascinated by one particular painting, namely that of young Melbourne artist Natasha Bieniek. Her portrait appears more like a photograph than a painting (note: blog image not same quality as that of small painting).

Natasha's portrait is a remarkable achievement for it was rendered in part with a pin on a surface of  board no bigger than a matchbox.

I recommend the reader visit the following web site to view the work of the finalists, and watch a video in which Margaret Olley and Ben Quilty comment on the winning portrait. 

A Google search will also provide the reader with photos that highlight the range and quality of Margaret Olley's paintings.


As I was writing this blog, the evening TV news revealed that Margaret Olley had passed away on 26 July 2011. The Age obituary referred to her as the Shy country girl who became a national treasure. The significance of her death will add to the visual experience of those who will be visiting the gallery at Tarrawarra in the few remaining days.

   "Everyone has a thing they love to do in life-
    playing bridge, gardening, having children.
 Mine is painting, where I celebrate life."

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