Part 1: Important Fine Art
27 November 2013


(1927 - 1982)

gouache on paper

56.0 x 75.0 cm

signed and dated lower left: Fred Williams

$30,000 - 40,000
Sold for $28,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 32 - 27 November 2013, Melbourne

Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney
Thence by descent
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Eroded Hill, 1977 is one of a series of gouaches which Fred Williams painted at Cavan during a visit he made in August of that year to the historic property owned by Rupert Murdoch. Located on the Murrumbidgee River near Yass in New South Wales, it offered Williams that characteristic monotony and hidden variety of detail in the Australian landscape which so appealed to him. While the rise of a hill or a weather-worn flat may attract the eye, the absence of focus led Williams to build it into the paint "dabs, swirls, and strokes of colour - enriched textures, broad washes nuanced with subtleties and creamy surfaces" all testimony to his great gifts as a colourist. The same is found in Cavan, 1977, another gouache of similar size in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and an untitled landscape of Cavan gifted to Canberra's National Gallery of Australia in 2005 by Alcoa World Alumina Australia. Idiosyncratically individual in their presentation of the landscape, each follows the convention of earth below and sky above, with that two-dimensional feel engineered by emphasis on the picture plane, adding to the distinct edge of the horizon and sense of something beyond. Generating a mood of expectancy, it harmonises with the abiding sense of timelessness, of a land reaching back to the primordial -powerfully present and moving. In choosing the Australian landscape above all, Williams said in the year of his Cavan paintings, 'I must be inside looking out - not outside looking in'.1 Williams's gouaches, through the greater informality of the medium allow a more personally felt response to slip through. Gouache has always been an important medium for Williams, who held his first public gallery exhibition of 'watercolours' at the Newcastle Art Gallery in 1971. In 1977, the same year as our Eroded Hill, he held a solo show of gouaches at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

His reference to erosion in the title of our painting, places it in that tradition of Australian painting of natural disasters which are so tragic a part of our land - bushfires, floods, and the erosion that results from both. Williams painted a number of works on bushfires earlier in his career. When Sidney Nolan painted his drought series of 1953, the carcass of the dead beast was a metaphor for the bared bones of the landscape. Equally dramatic, in The Rabbiters, 1947 (National Gallery of Victoria), Russell Drysdale depicted the fallen tree reaching into the eroded landscape in the guise of a human forearm. In Williams's gouache, it is the emptiness which strikes one first " then one looks a little closer.

1. The artist, quoted in Hart, D., Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2011, p. 157