Fred Williams

Eltham Landscape, 1958
oil on composition board
61.0 x 47.2 cm
signed 'Fred Williams' (lower right)


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Artist's estate
Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
Acquired from the above by the present in 2000

'Fred Williams', Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 12 May 1959, cat.20
'Fred Williams - A Retrospective, Australian National Gallery', Canberra, 7 November 1987-31 January 1988; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 17 February-3 April 1988; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 18 April-22 May 1988; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth 13 June-31 July 1988; Art Gallery of South Australia 16 August-30 October 1988; Queensland Art Gallery, 24 November 1988 -30 January 1989; Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 29 April 1989 and Art Gallery of New South Wales, 8 August-24 September 1989.
'Fred Williams', Phillip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 4 April-6 May 2000, cat.1

'James Mollison, A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams', Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1989, illus. p.41
'Fred Williams', Phillip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 2000, illus. front cover

Fred Williams returned to Australia in 1956 after four years in London, studying the techniques of the Old and Modern masters. He was determined to continue making art while surviving on the proceeds of a framing job. It was an introduction and a few sales through the prestigious Redfern Gallery that allowed him an extension of time. While he painted some plein air works in gouache, the traditional study of the figure was the main focus of Williams' paintings, gouaches and printmaking in London.

When Williams first encountered the Australian landscape on his ships arrival in Perth, he was struck by how different and unique his homeland was. As noted by James Mollison 'Back in Australia he realised he could use the landscape - as previously he had used figures - as a vehicle for formal artistic invention'. How to depict the Australian landscape became William's lifelong obsession.

After the confines of a small studio space in London, when Williams arrived home, he continued and found pleasure with the small format for his paintings. He broke new ground by abandoning the traditional landscape format to a new square one. This move worked so successfully, as so often Williams painted "a small part of the landscape before him, ignoring the wider view."

'Eltham Landscape' incorporates all the wonderful characteristics seen in the best of Williams work. The conscious meeting point of the trees, sky and land; the trees rising vertically from a characteristically shallow foreground space and low viewpoint; and the observant use of a layering of paint to build up the individual depth of colour of the Australian landscape.

'Eltham Landscape' was chosen to represent Williams' late 1950s paintings in the important retrospective that toured state galleries of Australia in 1988-1989. It was kept in the artist's estate until 2000.

  • Eltham Landscape

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For the naturalistic tradition in Australian landscape painting, Fred Williams represents one of the most original forces of the 20th century. He is known for his images of dry environments such as Upwey and the You Yangs in Victoria and the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and is remembered as a painter of essence and character, as opposed to a painter of grand scenes. Williams was particularly fascinated by the flatness of the Australian continent and his landscape images often spread themselves out across the canvas, without horizon lines, like landscapes seen from the air.

Williams trained in Melbourne, at the National Gallery School and the George Bell Art School during the 1940s. In 1951 he left for London and, after further study returned to Australia in 1957. His breakthrough series of You Yangs paintings was exhibited in the early 1960s and began to transform the way Australians saw their native landscape.

In 2013-14 the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane presented 'Fred Williams: Painter, Printmaker', which followed the important National Gallery of Australia, Canberra touring retrospective 'Fred Williams, Infinite Horizons', mounted in 2011.