Fred Williams

Fred Williams

Infobox Artist
name = Fred Williams

imagesize = 230px
caption = Fred Williams
birthname = Frederick Ronald Williams
birthdate = 23 January 1927
location = Melbourne, Australia
deathdate = 22 April 1982
deathplace = Hawthorn, Victoria
nationality = flagicon|AustraliaAustralian
field = Painting, Printmaker
training = National Gallery School, Melbourne, Chelsea School of Art, London
movement =
works = Pilbara series (1979–81)
patrons =
awards = Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)

Frederick Ronald (Fred) Williams OBE (23 January 1927 - 22 April 1982) was an Australian painter and printmaker. He was one of Australia’s most important artists, and one of the twentieth century’s major painters of the landscape. He had more than seventy solo exhibitions during his career in Australian galleries, as well as the exhibition "Fred Williams - Landscapes of a Continent" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1977.

Fred Williams was born in 1927 in Melbourne. From 1943 to 1947 he studied at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, at first part-time and then full-time from 1945 at the age of 16. The Gallery School was traditional and academic, with a long and prestigious history. He also began lessons under George Bell the following year, who had his own art school in Melbourne. This continued until 1950. Bell was a conservative modern artist but a very influential teacher.

Between 1951 and 1956, Williams studied part-time at the Chelsea School of Art, London (now Chelsea College of Art and Design) and in 1954 he did an etching course at the Central School of Arts and Craft. He subsidised his art practice by working in a picture-framer’s shop. He returned to Melbourne in 1957.

He had work included in the 'Recent Australian Painting' exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and 'Australian Painting: Colonial, Impressionism, Modern' at the Tate Gallery.

He married Lyn Watson in 1960, and they had three daughters: Isobel, Louise and Kate. In 1963 the couple moved to Upwey, Victoria in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne, a location that would have a decisive impact on his work. In 1964 they travelled through Europe on a Helena Rubenstein Scholarship. In 1969 Williams moved to Hawthorn, an inner suburb of Melbourne.

In 1976 he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and awarded a Doctorate of Law (Honoris Causa) by Monash University in 1980.

Williams won the Wynne Prize for landscape painting twice; in 1966 with "Upwey Landscape" and in 1976 with "Mt. Kosciusko".

His painting "Upwey Landscape" (1965) sold for $1,987,700 in one of the final auctions of Christie's in Australia in April 2006, which was the second highest price for an Australian work. [,20867,18778706-2702,00.html] [,20281,18777417-5001028,00.html] The previous highest price for one of Williams' paintings was $5,875,000 for "You Yangs Landscape" in 1963.

He died in 1982, in Hawthorn from lung cancer at age 55.


After mainly working with figures in early paintings and etchings, he began painting landscapes after returning to Melbourne in 1957, which remained the major theme in his art.

While learning etching and printing in London, he produced vivid caricatured sketches of contemporary London life. It was during this period that he established his method of reworking the same motif a number of times in a number of mediums and very often over a number of years.

As an artist concerned with form over subjectivity, Williams' approach struck a jarring note against the unity of many of his close associates such as John Brack, Arthur Boyd and Charles Blackman, the authors of the famous ‘Antipodean’ manifesto of 1959. Williams' work was excluded from their major exhibition. As heirs to the expressionist tradition, the Antipodeans lauded a spontaneous, improvised approach to painting and saw the function of art as vested in its expressive potential. They had little time for - and, in fact, denounced - the 'new' art emerging from Europe, the influences which were increasingly informing Williams' development.

On his return to Australia, Williams saw the aesthetic potential of the Australian bush in its inherent plasticity. His interest lay in finding an aesthetic 'language' with which to express the very un-European Australian landscape. This was grounded in establishing a pictorial equivalent to the overwhelmingly vast, primarily flat landscape, in which the traditional European relationship of foreground to background breaks down, necessitating a complete re-imagining of compositional space. In this, Williams looked to the approach taken by Australian Aboriginal artists.

He did this by tilting the landscape up against the picture plane, so that frequently the only indicator of horizontal recession is the presence of a horizon line, or where clumps of trees huddle closer together towards the horizon, suggesting recession. Where no horizon is visible, the landscape runs fully parallel to the picture plane, as in the major You Yangs series of the mid-1960s. Here, calligraphic knots of pigment indicate the presence of single trees against the earth, as if seen from the air ( [ example] ).

In the last years of his career, Williams produced more landscape series with strong themes, his last being the Pilbara series (1979–81), which remained intact as it was acquired by Con-Zinc Rio Tinto Group, the mining company that had invited him to explore the arid north-west region of Australia.


* Kirsty Grant,Fred Williams: Pilbara Series", National Gallery Of Victoria, Melbourne, 2006
* Patrick McCaughey, "Fred Williams, 1927-82", Bay Books, Sydney; second revised edition, 1987
* James Mollison, "A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams", Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1989

External links

* [ Ballarat Fine Art Gallery]
* [ Fred Williams website]
* [ National Gallery of Victoria]
* [ Tate Gallery]
* [ Fred Williams Image Gallery]

(If anyone wants a portrait photo of Fred Williams, they can find it at

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