The Estate of the late James O. Fairfax AC
30 August 2017


(1927 – 1982)

gouache on paper

19.5 x 73.5 cm

signed lower right: Fred Williams

$30,000 – 40,000
Sold for $61,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 50 - 30 August 2017, Sydney

Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
The Estate of the late James O. Fairfax AC, New South Wales and Bridgestar Pty Ltd, Sydney, acquired from the above in 1976

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

Catalogue text

Fred Williams is one of the most important artists of his generation and one whose contribution to the tradition of landscape painting in Australia was arguably the most significant of the twentieth century. His unique vision of the natural environment – from areas of scrubby bush on the edges of suburbia, to pristine coastal views and the vast dry inland country – captured its essence, creating archetypal images that have since become part of our collective visual memory.

From the beginning of his career Williams drew on his experience of the surrounding world as the source of subject matter for his art and a natural extension of this practice was to work in the landscape directly from nature, something he did on a regular basis throughout most of his adult life. Fascinated by the landscape and the variation he found within it, Williams recorded his response to his surroundings and documented their essential characteristics. Gouache, a quick-drying medium composed of watercolour that has been mixed with a white pigment to render it opaque, was Williams’ primary medium for painting en plein air, although in the late 1960s he also began to make small outdoor oil sketches and added acrylic paint to his repertoire of outdoor materials in 1971. Williams’ gouaches were an important part of his working method and while many of the works made on outdoor sketching trips were finished works of art, others provided the basis for further work in the studio where they were reworked and refined – often becoming more abstract in the process – or translated into different media.

It was in the late 1960s that Williams happened upon the compositional device of a narrow horizontal strip for images of the landscape, a format that would enable him to eliminate unnecessary details in the foreground and distance and thereby focus on the aspects of the scene that most interested him.1 These strips, masked with tape and sometimes prepared in advance with a toned ground, also offered the possibility of depicting various views on a single sheet, illustrating the same subject from different perspectives or at different times of the day. In Landscape, 1970, the strip format emphasises the long flat horizon line of the subject which is interrupted only by a series of delicate trees described in Williams’ signature shorthand calligraphy of fine dots and dashes. In this image he is also interested in the hillside and the transformation of its smooth surface that has been eroded and shaped over time so that it meets the water at an irregular rocky juncture. While the colours of this landscape are predominantly the ochres and browns of the earth, Williams was a master colourist and close inspection reveals traces of bright colour including yellow, blue and green, that are deftly applied to highlight elements of the composition and enliven the surface of the work.

1. Mollison, J., A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams, Australian National Gallery and Oxford University Press, Canberra, 1989, p. 141

Former Director of Heide Museum of Modern Art
Former Senior Curator, National Gallery of Victoria