Important Australian and International Fine Art
10 May 2017


(1927 – 1982)

gouache on paper on composition board

27.0 x 76.0 cm

signed lower left: Fred Williams

$30,000 – 40,000
Sold for $46,360 (inc. BP) in Auction 49 - 10 May 2017, Sydney

Gifted to Gordon Darling on his retirement as Chairman, Rheem Australia, 1982
Private collection, Melbourne

Deutscher and Hackett gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Lyn Williams in cataloguing this work.

Catalogue text

The You Yangs, like Hanging Rock near Mt Macedon in Victoria, have a singular fascination. Rising from the Werribee Plain south-west of Melbourne, they dominate the landscape, their name coming from the Aboriginal ‘Wurdi Youang’ – big mountain in the middle of a plain. Fred Williams’ first You Yangs landscapes celebrate the flatness of the plain, seen from above in fields of minimalist splendour, as in You Yangs II, 1963, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. While the absence of sky and horizon continued in You Yangs Pond, 1963, in the collection of Art Gallery of South Australia, trees are now more defined, profiled within the overall flatness. A similar approach is found in the gouaches of this period, as in Knoll in the You Yangs I, 1964, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.1 The second You Yangs series of that same year saw the reappearance of the horizon line. As Patrick McCaughey observed: ‘The horizon no longer divided the painting spatially into sky and earth: it divided the surface’.2 Soon Williams was involved in the celebrated Upwey paintings. Upwey Landscape II, 1965, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, won the Georges Invitation Art Prize in February 1966; and Upwey Landscape V, 1965 – 66, in the collection of Art Gallery of Ballarat, was awarded the Wynne Prize in January 1967. His solo exhibition at Rudy Komon’s Sydney gallery was a sellout. Gordon Darling was among those lucky enough to secure an Upwey landscape oil painting. Hailed in Sydney as possibly ‘Australia’s greatest landscape artist’; for his following Melbourne show, McCaughey declared that Williams ‘…has established himself as the most exciting landscape painter in Australia…’.3

In Acacias, You Yangs III of 1971 Williams returned to the more traditional landscape format of land, horizon and sky, the detritus of the bush and trees profiled, the illusion of depth balanced by the painterly emphasis on the picture plane. It achieves the best of both worlds of representation and abstraction. The sparkle of golden wattle contrasting against the cool greys and blues of winter fascinated Williams, a fascination he returned to in later paintings. 4 The previous summer of 1970 – 71 had seen Williams painting a series of strip gouaches at Victorian seaside resorts. Classic examples are found in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia – Beachscape with Tidal Eddies, Sorrento, 1971, and Beachscape with Bathers, Queenscliff, numbers I to IV, 1971. In March he was again sketching around the You Yangs, Acacias, You Yangs III, with its elegant panorama and lively brushwork, having been painted en plein air in May. Gouaches, like his etchings, have always been an important and integral part of Williams’ oeuvre. His first solo exhibition of gouaches was held later in 1971 at the Newcastle Art Gallery, followed by a national tour, their originality of vision drawing numerous admirers.5

1. McCaughey, P., Fred Williams, Bay Books, Sydney, 1980, p. 162
2. ibid., p. 167
3. Thornton, W., ‘Is this our greatest landscape painter?’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 1966, p. 22; McCaughey, P., ‘A Painter Apart’, Age, 27 September 1967, p. 6
4. See Acacia Saplings, c.1974, Deutscher and Hackett, Sydney, 13 September 2016, lot 16
5. Fred Williams Watercolours, Newcastle City Art Gallery, 1 July – 2 August 1971, a large body of unexhibited works from the artist’s collection, ranging from Mittagong subjects of the late fifties, through Sherbrooke, the You Yangs and Mornington Beach to Upwey and Queenscliffe of 1971