A Rare Sensibility | Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen

A new exhibition at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery is a rare opportunity to discover the work of artist Valerie Strong (1933-2011), who was a practicing artist and teacher for most of her life but seldom showed her work in public.

Valerie Strong, mid-1970s. Photograph: Robert Raymond
Valerie, mid-1970s. Photograph: Robert Raymond

“As long as I can remember I’ve always been drawing and painting. I always remember my mother getting very annoyed with me for using up all her writing pads as a child.”
–– Valerie Strong, 1965

The 70 works in this exhibition, are chiefly from the collection of Valerie’s son and daughter, Sydney gallerist Tim Olsen and Louise Olsen, co-founder of Dinosaur Designs. Dating from 1959 to 2004, the works cross many mediums including oil and acrylic on board and canvas, watercolours, prints and drawings, including several life drawings from the NAS Collection.

Pond in Half Light, 1982_Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen
Pond in Half Light, 1982, Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen


“Valerie was an outstanding student at the National Art School, who became an accomplished and inspired artist and teacher in her own right. It’s wonderful to bring her work into the public eye and pay tribute to her as an important part of one of Australia’s most renowned creative families,” said NAS Director and CEO, Steven Alderton.

Valerie Froggett graduated in Painting in 1961 from NAS (then East Sydney Technical College), where two of her most influential teachers were John Passmore and Godfrey Miller. She met John Olsen in 1960 when he taught at East Sydney Tech briefly. They married in 1962 and in 1967 founded The Bakery Art School in Paddington in an old bakery building where they both taught classes.

Still Life with Flowers, 1985_Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen
Still Life with Flowers, 1985_Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen


The exhibition was first developed by The National Art School in 2021 as a complementary exhibition show concurrently with John Olsen: Goya’s Dog. Valerie and John’s children Louise and Tim have curated this exhibition and share memories of their mother and her many unrecognised talents.

John Olsen remembers his former wife as a sensitive person with an endearing love of the Australian bush. “She cherished it and had a great love of bush orchids. Whenever she found them, she would put a little fence around them so nobody would tread on them. She did lovely, sensitive paintings, of this kind of thing. So different from myself, Nolan or Fred Williams who had more of an overview of landscape. Her own vision looked to the ground, to Mother Earth.”

(Detail) Hawkesbury I, 1987_Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen
Banksias, 1989_Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen
TOP: (Detail) Hawkesbury I, 1987_Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen / ABOVE: Banksias, 1989_Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen


Tim says his mother had a quiet dedication to her practice, the core of which he describes as idiosyncratic.

“We feel she made a contribution; she had a wonderful, sensitivity and way of looking at Australian native and landscapes. She captured that uniquely Australian light, colour and tone,” Louise says.

Tim says his mother’s intimacy with the landscape was “something so special that puts her in a category of her own”. “There are very few great Australian women landscape painters who have been able to achieve that sensibility.”

Who knows, says Louise, “maybe if she had been living in a different time when women were more valued as artists more people would know her work. If you look at the female artists at the time, how many are well known today? It’s a fraction of the number of male artists we know.”


Maitland Regional Art Gallery
12 November 2022 - 5 March 2023

Members’ morning tea & talk with Tim Olsen
Saturday 10 December, 10.30am for an 11.00am talk
$15 | Bookings essential

Read Louise and Tim’s full essay here.

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