John Olsen photographed at his studio in Bowral 2016Image: Nic Walker/ The Sydney Morning Herald John Olsen photographed at his studio in Bowral 2016
Image: Nic Walker/ The Sydney Morning Herald

No other artist has shaped Australian art like John Olsen. A pioneer for capturing Australia's landscape through European influence, Olsen is one of Australia's most celebrated creative minds.

Born in Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1928, Olsen was raised here until his family moved to Bondi Beach in 1935. It was here that his fascination with Sydney Harbour began, a landmark that later in his career he became renowned for portraying.

In 1957, his promise as an artist was illuminating, so much so that the artist community in Sydney raised fund for him to travel to Europe to paint. He explored the art of London, Paris and Spain, bringing back with him not only a love for paella - a motif which would later recur in his work - but also influences from the European Modern Masters such as Picasso and Marc Chagall.

John Olsen’s mural, Salute to Five Bells, at the Sydney Opera HouseImage: The Australian John Olsen’s mural, Salute to Five Bells, at the Sydney Opera House
Image: The Australian

In 1960, Olsen returned to his beloved Sydney, ready to use his paintbrush to explore Australia's diversity of culture and landscapes. One of Olsen's most recognizable and widely acclaimed murals is Salute to Five Bells, which resides at the Sydney Opera House. The piece is in part a representation of Sydney Harbour whilst simultaneously capturing the wider landscape of Australia: tress, houses, parks, animals and the ocean. Olsen's European thread is also evident in this piece, with allusions to his Spanish favorite paella.

In a 2016 review by the Guardian of the opening of John Olsen: The You Beaut Country at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Olsen is described as ''the grand old man of Australian art.'' And it's no surprise why - the artist had an exhibiting career of 65 years.

John Olsen, 'Camp Cove’, ‘Foggy Morning’, ‘Peak Hour’, ‘The Ship Arrives’, ‘Bondi’, ‘Seaport of Desire’, six miniature lithographs, ex Tim Olsen Gallery, each of 8.5 x 10cm.Up for auction this month at Raffan Kelaher & Thomas John Olsen, 'Camp Cove’, ‘Foggy Morning’, ‘Peak Hour’, ‘The Ship Arrives’, ‘Bondi’, ‘Seaport of Desire’, six miniature lithographs, ex Tim Olsen Gallery, each of 8.5 x 10cm.
Up for auction this month at Raffan Kelaher & Thomas

The Guardian article goes on to describe the impact Olsen has had on the modern art of Australia: ''Olsen is literally the last man standing of that grand generation of Australian artists who created modern painting from the ground up: the men and women who quit the country to tour Europe and return home later with big ideas and matching ambition.''

During this 65 year career, Olsen was named in the Australian New Year's Honours list in 1977, appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, in 1993 he was awarded an Australian Creative Fellowship and in the Australia Day Honours of 2001 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.

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