Art Gallery of Ballarat’s renowned John Olsen ceiling artwork to undergo conservation work for the opening of Significant Others exhibition

Art-Gallery-of-Ballarat-John-Olsen-Summer-in-the-you-beaut-country-2-1965The Art Gallery of Ballarat has announced the restoration of an important work by John Olsen, Summer in the you beaut country 2.

The conservation works, to be undertaken by highly skilled painting conservator Catherine Nunn, will begin on the 4 November, to coincide with the opening of the Gallery’s Significant Others exhibition.

The painting is an example of Olsen’s practice in the early 1960s of painting large murals in private houses. It is part of his You beaut country series from this period.

In 1961 John Olsen, inspired by years of painting, reading and traveling said “I noticed that Australians were saying that a trip in a car can be beaut, an ice cream can be beaut, Leonardo can be beaut and really it is a corruption of the word beautiful.”

He recognised that though vulgar the way Australians express themselves in the vernacular can be very vital, very robust.

Richard Patrick (Pat) Allen, an expat Australian pilot, and his English artist wife Penny Colman were avid art collectors living in London. In 1965 Olsen travelled to England, where he stayed with the Allens for five months.

During this time Olsen was commissioned by the Allen’s to paint a ceiling, Summer in the you beaut country 2, in the dining room of their Kensington home. After it was completed, Olsen noted, “the ceiling looks extraordinarily delicate in the soft English light.”

Olsen’s ceiling paintings incorporated a private commission with a performative aspect – the works were completed in private homes with the owners looking on.

Another well-known example is a 1962 ceiling Summer in the you beaut country – which was commissioned by a friend of the Allen’s, art dealer Frank McDonald, for his home in Woollahra, Sydney. This work is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.

The seven-piece polyptych in the Ballarat Collection measures 5.74 metres by 3.73 metres. Visitors will be able to view the conservation work in real time, mirroring the performative aspect of Olsen’s original painting.

The mural will be installed on easels in the Gallery, where Catherine Nunn will undertake the conservation work in public. After the conservation work is completed, the work will stay on trestles, alongside a portrait of Penny Allen by Roy de Maistre. After the exhibition, the Gallery will find a permanent space for significant work.

“We are delighted that this nationally significant painting by one of Australia’s most loved artists is being brought back to life to enable it to be displayed for the first time in many years. The painting displays many of Olsen’s best -known traits – a joyful work of bright swirling colours combined with a distinctly Australian sensibility,” said Gallery Director, Louise Tegart.

Olsen has painted several ceiling artworks in his lifetime, four of which are now in public collections – two at the Newcastle Art Gallery, one at the National Gallery of Victoria and one at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Significant Others is an exhibition exploring relationships that have brought about artistic talent. In a society where the term significant other is often associated with intimate partners, this exhibition opens the door to a broader understanding, revealing the origins of the term in psychology – a reference to individuals who wield meaningful influence over the quality of one’s life.

Whether parents, mentors, or other guiding figures, these individuals have shaped the trajectory of personal development. Significant Others goes beyond the conventional, celebrating the entwined lives of artists and their creations.

Pairings in the exhibition include Hans Heysen and Nora Heysen, John Brack and Helen Maudsley, Joy Hester and Albert Tucker, Inge King and Graham King, Brent Harris and Andrew Browne, George Lambert and Thea Proctor, Sidney Nolan and John Perceval, Albert Namatjira and Vincent Namatjira, and many more.

Significant Others offers a unique opportunity to witness the relationships of inspiration, mentorship, friendship, and kinship that have shaped the artistic landscape today. Visitors will be immersed in the narratives of artistic bonds that transcend time and medium.

Curator Tour: Significant Others with Louise Tegart: Sunday 4 November 2023 – 2.00pm
Gallery Director Louise Tegart will take visitors on the Curator Tour of Significant Others. With her professional expertise, Tegart will navigate the web of artistic connections, offering a unique perspective of each exhibit. Tegart’s insightful commentary unveils the narratives that intricately unite these remarkable works, allowing visitors to forge a deeper connection with both the art and the stories that breathe life into them. Free entry – bookings required.

Significant Others
The Art Gallery of Ballarat, 40 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat
Exhibition: 4 November 2023 – 11 February 2024
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: John Olsen, Summer in the you beaut country 2, 1965, synthetic polymer paint and watercolour on plywood. Gift of Patrick Allen, 1976