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Fred Williams

Fred Williams

Overview
Frederick Ronald Williams OBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 (23 January 1927 - 22 April 1982) was an Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 and printmaker. He was one of Australia’s most important artists, and one of the twentieth century’s major painters of the landscape
Landscape
Landscape comprises the visible features of an area of land, including the physical elements of landforms such as mountains, hills, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds and the sea, living elements of land cover including indigenous vegetation, human elements including different forms of...

. 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
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

 in New York in 1977.

Fred Williams was born in 1927 in Richmond
Richmond, Victoria
Richmond is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 3 km south-east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the City of Yarra...

, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, the son of an electrical engineer and a Richmond housewife.
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Encyclopedia
Frederick Ronald Williams OBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 (23 January 1927 - 22 April 1982) was an Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 and printmaker. He was one of Australia’s most important artists, and one of the twentieth century’s major painters of the landscape
Landscape
Landscape comprises the visible features of an area of land, including the physical elements of landforms such as mountains, hills, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds and the sea, living elements of land cover including indigenous vegetation, human elements including different forms of...

. 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
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

 in New York in 1977.

Early life and education


Fred Williams was born in 1927 in Richmond
Richmond, Victoria
Richmond is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 3 km south-east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the City of Yarra...

, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, the son of an electrical engineer and a Richmond housewife. Williams left school at 14 and was apprenticed to a firm of Melbourne shopfitters and box makers. 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
George Bell (painter)
George Frederick Henry Bell was an Australian painter.He was born in Kew, Victoria, the son of George Bell, a public servant, and educated at Kew High School. He studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School from 1895-1903...

 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
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 (now Chelsea College of Art and Design
Chelsea College of Art and Design
Chelsea College of Art and Design, the erstwhile Chelsea School of Art, is a constituent college of the University of the Arts London, and is a leading British art and design institution with an international reputation...

) and in 1954 he did an etching course at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. He lived in a South Kensington
South Kensington
South Kensington is a district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London. It is a built-up area located 2.4 miles west south-west of Charing Cross....

 bedsit and subsidised his art practice by working part-time at Savage’s picture framers. Williams returned to Melbourne in 1956, when his family was able to send him a cheap ticket aboard a ship bringing visitors to the Melbourne Olympics
1956 Summer Olympics
The 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVI Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was held in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956, with the exception of the equestrian events, which could not be held in Australia due to quarantine regulations...

.

He had work included in the 'Recent Australian Painting' exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
The Whitechapel Gallery is a public art gallery on the north side of Whitechapel High Street, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, it was founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly-funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, and it has a long...

, London, and 'Australian Painting: Colonial, Impressionism, Modern' at the Tate Gallery
Tate Gallery
The Tate is an institution that houses the United Kingdom's national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art...

.

Work


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
John Brack
John Brack was an Australian painter, and a member of the Antipodeans group.-Life:...

, Arthur Boyd
Arthur Boyd
Arthur Merric Bloomfield Boyd, AC, OBE was one of the leading Australian painters of the late 20th Century. A member of the prominent Boyd artistic dynasty in Australia, his relatives included painters, sculptors, architects or other arts professionals. His sister Mary Boyd married John Perceval,...

 and Charles Blackman
Charles Blackman
Charles Blackman is one of the best known Australian artists still living today, especially for the famous Schoolgirl and Alice in Wonderland series of the 1950s...

, 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 in finding an aesthetic 'language' with which to express the very un-European Australian landscape
Landscape
Landscape comprises the visible features of an area of land, including the physical elements of landforms such as mountains, hills, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds and the sea, living elements of land cover including indigenous vegetation, human elements including different forms of...

. 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 composition
Composition (visual arts)
In the visual arts – in particular painting, graphic design, photography and sculpture – composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art or a photograph, as distinct from the subject of a work...

al 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
Picture plane
A picture plane is the imaginary flat surface which is usually located between the station point and the object being viewed and is ordinarily a vertical plane perpendicular to the horizontal projection of the line of sight to the object's order of interest....

, so that frequently the only indicator of horizontal recession is the presence of a horizon
Horizon
The horizon is the apparent line that separates earth from sky, the line that divides all visible directions into two categories: those that intersect the Earth's surface, and those that do not. At many locations, the true horizon is obscured by trees, buildings, mountains, etc., and the resulting...

 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).

Williams' first Australian landscape series was based on the Nattai River
Nattai River
-References:...

 (1957-58).

Williams' landscapes recorded the passage of the Yarra River
Yarra River
The Yarra River, originally Birrarung, is a river in east-central Victoria, Australia. The lower stretches of the river is where the city of Melbourne was established in 1835 and today Greater Melbourne dominates and influences the landscape of its lower reaches...

 from its source to its mouth.

In 1960, Williams was invited to enter for the Helena Rubenstein Travelling Art Scholarship, the richest and most prestigious art prize at the time with an award of £1000 plus £300 travel expenses aimed at giving the winner overseas experience. Five paintings were required for his entry and he selected Landscape with a steep road (1957), Landscape with a building I (c. 1957–58), The forest pond (c. 1959–60), Sherbrooke Forest (1960) and The St George River (1960). He won in 1963 and it proved to be a turning point in his career which, according to fellow artist Jan Senbergs, brought Williams wide acclaim, especially from many influential curators and critics. Sydney art dealer Rudy Komon took Williams on as one of his key artists which enabled Williams to discontinue his part-time work with a Melbourne picture-framer and paint full-time.

In 1969, Williams started using a horizontal strip format in his landscape paintings in order to present different aspects of one scene on the same sheet. In 1970, Williams produced a group of four large strip format gouache-on-paper paintings called the West Gate Bridge series showing the half-constructed West Gate Bridge
West Gate Bridge
The West Gate Bridge is a steel box girder cable-stayed bridge in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It spans the Yarra River, just north of its mouth into Port Phillip, and is a vital link between the inner city and Melbourne's western suburbs with the industrial suburbs in the west and with the city...

 over the Yarra River
Yarra River
The Yarra River, originally Birrarung, is a river in east-central Victoria, Australia. The lower stretches of the river is where the city of Melbourne was established in 1835 and today Greater Melbourne dominates and influences the landscape of its lower reaches...

 in Melbourne
Melbourne
Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2009, the greater...

. A section of the bridge collapsed on 15 October 1970, while it was still under construction, killing thirty-five workers. Williams had planned to paint the length of the river, but his widow, Lyn said he "lost heart in the project" after the accident. In his Beachscape with bathers Queenscliff I-IV series from 1971, Williams painted from the top of a cliff overlooking the beach during a seaside holiday. Each sheet is broken horizontally into four separate strips representing a different time of day and corresponding shift in the colour and tone of the scene as Williams recorded the effects of light on the landscape. By 1971 he had developed the technique extensively, moving from a vertical format to a horizontal format.

In March 1974, Williams travelled to Erith Island in Bass Strait
Bass Strait
Bass Strait is a sea strait separating Tasmania from the south of the Australian mainland, specifically the state of Victoria.-Extent:The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Bass Strait as follows:...

 between Victoria and Tasmania
Tasmania
Tasmania is an Australian island and state. It is south of the continent, separated by Bass Strait. The state includes the island of Tasmania—the 26th largest island in the world—and the surrounding islands. The state has a population of 507,626 , of whom almost half reside in the greater Hobart...

 with the historians Stephen Murray-Smith and Ian Turner, and fellow painter Clifton Pugh
Clifton Pugh
Clifton Ernest Pugh AO, was an Australian artist and three-time winner of Australia's Archibald Prize. He was strongly influenced by German Expressionism, and was known for his landscapes and portraiture...

. Poor weather prevented Williams and his friends from leaving the island when they had intended. When the weather broke Williams painted a number of gouaches, including Beachscape, Erith Island I and II which employ the horizontal strip format. The Beachscape, Erith Island pictures show the point where the sea joins the land depicted as if looking down from above in the form of four strips. Williams recorded the event in his diary from 27–28 March 1974, "I do 'strip' paintings of the beach using sand glued on – but the wind has worn me to a 'frazzle' … My final half doz. strip paintings are my best."

In May 1976, while Williams and his wife Lyn were visiting Paris and Bologna, many of Williams's paintings and all gouaches stored at the Barrett Malt Factory in Richmond were damaged by a fire.

In February 1979, Williams visited the Lal Lal Falls on the Moorabool River
Moorabool River
The Moorabool River is a river in Victoria, Australia that runs past several small towns and areas such as Meredith, Anakie, and Staughton Vale...

 to the west of Melbourne near Ballarat and painted the Lal Lal polyptych, a four panel painting that he regarded as a single work. The successive canvases of the polyptych depict the changes in light on the waterfall and the surrounding landscape. Williams painted the last of his major landscapes, the four panel Waterfall polyptych (oil on canvas, each 183.0 cm x 152.5 cm), in his studio in 1979 based on the Lal Lal polyptych. He described the studio painting as "a major effort on my part" and it is regarded as one of the most important works of his career. Williams said that his "enthusiasm was fired" by Eugene von Guérard
Eugene von Guerard
Johann Joseph Eugene von GuérardHis first name is variously spelled "Eugen", "Eugene", "Eugène", one source mentions "Jean" ; his surname is spelled "Guerard" or "Guérard". The most frequent combination is that used by the National Gallery of Australia: "Eugene von Guérard"...

's Waterfall, Strath Creek from 1862.

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
Rio Tinto Group
The Rio Tinto Group is a diversified, British-Australian, multinational mining and resources group with headquarters in London and Melbourne. The company was founded in 1873, when a multinational consortium of investors purchased a mine complex on the Rio Tinto river, in Huelva, Spain from the...

, the mining company that had invited him to explore the arid north-west region of Australia

Awards


Williams received a Helena Rubinstein
Helena Rubinstein
Helena Rubinstein , a Polish born Australian-American business magnate. She is the founder and eponym of Helena Rubinstein, Incorporated, which made her one of the world's richest women.-Early life:...

 Travelling Art Scholarship in 1963. In 1976 he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 (OBE), and awarded a Doctorate of Law (Honoris Causa) by Monash University
Monash University
Monash University is a public university based in Melbourne, Victoria. It was founded in 1958 and is the second oldest university in the state. Monash is a member of Australia's Group of Eight and the ASAIHL....

 in 1980.

Williams won the Wynne Prize
Wynne Prize
The Wynne Prize is an Australian landscape painting or figure sculpture art prize. One of Australia's longest running art prizes, it was established in 1897 from the bequest of Richard Wynne...

 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
Christie's
Christie's is an art business and a fine arts auction house.- History :The official company literature states that founder James Christie conducted the first sale in London, England, on 5 December 1766, and the earliest auction catalogue the company retains is from December 1766...

 in Australia in April 2006, which at the time was the second highest price for any work sold at an Australian auction. In September 2007, auction house Deutscher-Menzies broke their sales record with Williams' Landscape with Water Ponds (1965) selling for $1,860,000. The most expensive work sold at an Australian auction in 2009 was Williams' 1965 Evening Sky, Upwey, which sold for $1.15 million.

Two of Williams' paintings, Dry Creek Bed, Werribee Gorge I (1977) and Drifting Smoke (1981) were included in Quintessence Editions Ltd.
Quintessence Editions Ltd.
Quintessence Editions Ltd. is a publishing company based in London which is the originator of the "1001 Before You Die" series. Typically, the titles in this series are intended as reference books. They are illustrated books authored by multiple contributors...

's 2007 edition of 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die. Williams' work is also represented in William Splatt's 100 Masterpieces of Australian Landscape Painting.

Personal life


Williams met Lyn Watson in January 1960 while painting at Sherbrooke
Sherbrooke, Victoria
Sherbrooke is a settlement in Victoria, Australia, 35 km east of Melbourne. Its local-government area is the Shire of Yarra Ranges. At the 2006 census, Sherbrooke had a population of 196....

. They were married in March 1961 and moved to the inner-city suburb of South Yarra. They had three daughters: Isobel, Louise and Kate. In 1963 the couple moved to Upwey, Victoria
Upwey, Victoria
Upwey is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the Shire of Yarra Ranges and City of Knox. At the 2006 Census, Upwey had a population of 6,760.-History:...

 in the Dandenong Ranges
Dandenong Ranges
The Dandenong Ranges are a set of low mountain ranges, rising to 633 metres at Mount Dandenong, approximately 35 km east of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia...

 outside Melbourne, a location that would have a decisive impact on his work. In 1964 they travelled through Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 on a Helena Rubenstein Scholarship. In 1969 Williams moved to Hawthorn
Hawthorn, Victoria
Hawthorn is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the City of Boroondara...

, an inner suburb of Melbourne.

Death and legacy


In November 1981, Williams was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He died less than six months later in Hawthorn on 22 April 1982, aged 55. Fellow artist and friend John Brack
John Brack
John Brack was an Australian painter, and a member of the Antipodeans group.-Life:...

 gave the eulogy at his funeral. He said

Williams' estate


Williams' estate is managed by his widow, Lyn Williams. Lyn bought a former factory in inner-Melbourne in 1989 and has managed the artist's estate from there since she sorted through his studio at their former home in Hawthorn. All of the artist's known works have been catalogued on a database. The building houses Williams' easel, brushes, the leather-bound diaries he kept from 1963 until his death, clipping books, a range of works and includes a gallery for hanging and photographing the artist's works. Works that are donated to public galleries and museums are prepared there. In 2009, Lyn Williams completed her ongoing gift to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) of the prints of Fred Williams.

External links