Important Australian + International Fine Art
17 November 2010

Fred Williams

(1927 - 1982)

oil on canvas

96.0 x 106.5 cm

signed lower left: Fred Williams

Sold for $324,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 18 - 17 November 2010, Sydney

Estate of the Artist (number LW979)
Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney
Private collection, Hong Kong


The Things We Do, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 2007, cat. 23 (label attached verso)


Mollison, J., A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 219–227

Catalogue text

Fred Williams's paintings of waterfalls are among his best works. In his perceptive study of Williams, James Mollison refers to 'the brilliance of the waterfall pictures.'1 And Patrick McCaughey describes the great, four panelled Waterfall Polyptych 1979 in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as 'a work richer and deeper than anything he had yet produced.'2 The waterfall as a majestic phenomenon in the Australian landscape has long attracted artists, especially those mid-nineteenth century painters Eugene von Guerard, Nicholas Chevalier and Thomas Clark who travelled the country in search of the picturesque. Williams's own interest had been initiated by von Guerard's painting Waterfall at Strath Creek 1862, also in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Having made a free copy of it, he forgot about it. 'One day', he later recalled, 'I woke up and thought, well actually I wouldn't mind going around and looking at more of them.'3 This he did, even visiting the many sites painted by those late colonial artists in their pursuit of the sublime in nature. Armed with a copy of E. Sherbon Hill's Physiography of Victoria, which he found 'very useful for finding areas to work in', he visited many of Victoria's waterfalls from the Western District to South Gippsland.4 They included Lal Lal Falls near Ballarat, Kyneton's Queens Falls, Masons and Wombelano Falls in the Kinglake National Park, and the Agnes Falls near Port Welshpool. The results were spectacular as in Strath Creek Falls II 1979 which was acquired for the Robert Holmes à Court Collection.

Coliban Falls II 1979 was inspired by the Trentham Falls on the Coliban River in central Victoria. Its dramatic thirty-two-metre plunge is the highest single drop waterfall in Victoria. Located in the Wombat State Forest surrounded by much of its original vegetation, the waters fall over basalt columns onto the white quartz gravel below with spectacular beauty. While the romantic appeal of the falls is ever present in all his paintings in the series, these paintings nevertheless are above all superb works of art. While the sparkle and splash of dark cascading waters in Coliban Falls II attract every eye, (Williams' handling of illusion masterfully conjures up the scenic moment), it is the formal elements of lyrical colours, inventive and dynamic composition, and sensuous textures that command attention. Perspective and spatial depth are marshalled to conform with the picture plane with such skill that the painting can be enjoyed equally for its abstract qualities as its pictorial illusion of reality.

1. Mollison, J., A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1989, p. 225
2. McCaughey, P., Fred Williams, Bay Books Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1980, p. 303
3. Fred Williams to Film Australia, quoted in Mollison, op. cit., p. 220
4. Williams quoted in Mollison, op. cit., p. 220