Fred Williams the master landscape painter of Australia

Fred Williams became enormously successful by remaining faithful to what he loved. This post features one of Australia’s most famous landscape artists.

His paintings were simple abstract works, but they sold for millions of dollars.

Australia’s most celebrated contemporary landscape painter was once a humble, hard working man.

Fred was born in Melbourne Australia in 1927 and died 55 years later of lung cancer. He was Australia’s most famous contemporary landscape painter who began his working career as a shopfitter and boxmaker.

Fred studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne and furthered his education in London. Upon returning to Australia he was inspired by the aesthetic beauty of the dry rugged bush landscape .

He faithfully followed this visual direction for the rest of his life.

Fred Williams Upwey Landscape 1965 oil on canvas Fred Williams the master landscape painter of Australia

‘Upwey landscape’ 1965 by Fred Williams Oil on canvas 147 x 183 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest © estate of Fred Williams

Point 1. Follow ones unique visual perspective and be faithful to that special direction.

However, he was isolated from his closest associates namely John Brack, Arthur Boyd and Charles Blackman because of his complete devotion to the unique form and style of his paintings.

Fred Williams developed a very deliberate, purposeful approach to his painting.

An approach opposite to his friend’s expressionist tendencies who pursued a more spontaneous and improvised style of painting. Expressionism was a popular modern art movement during Fred’s lifetime, in which artists sought the emotional experience, rather than a physical depiction of reality.

Point 2. Following your creative path often means you must let go of friends travelling in a different direction.

Fred Williams’ painting titled ‘Upwey Landscape’ completed in 1965 was sold for $1,987,700 at Christie’s during 2006. Then in 2007, another auction house broke their sales record with the Fred Williams’ painting titled ‘Water Ponds’ created in 1965 which sold for $1,860,000.

However, the most expensive artwork sold in Australia during 2009 was another Fred Williams landscape completed in 1965 titled ‘Evening Sky, Upwey’ which sold for $1.38 million.

Despite the record prices what I love most about Fred Williams is the richness he manages to achieve from such simple compositions. The textures he created are symbolic and meaningful to Australian art lovers.

Point 3. Williams creates dramatic contrasts between clean peaceful spaces and complex suggestive textures of earthy Australian colours .

Evening Sky Upwey by Fred Williams Fred Williams the master landscape painter of Australia

‘Evening Sky, Upway’ by Fred Williams 1965 oil on canvas 135 x 130 cm Private collection, Melbourne

The famous Australian artist and contemporary, John Brack, gave a touching eulogy at Williams’ funeral stating, “Fred brought us a new vision of Australia’s landscape…. He changed the way we see our country: an achievement which will live long after all of us are gone.”

Williams recognised that an Australian painter musn’t adopt a European mindset when in the bush landscape. English painters had tried before to paint the Australian landscape like it was England. Not surprisingly, they failed to capture in their paintings, the Australian outback spirit.

Point 4. Natives of the land understand and creatively interpret their homeland with most relevance and insight.

Fred Williams was adamant the Aussie landscape should not be compromised

And needed a non-European artist to produce a distinctly Australian feel . He was successful in his purpose and sold paintings for record prices. Australians could resonate with his contemporary abstract interpretation of their landscape.

Another landscape artist James Gleeson believes Williams to be one of those ‘rare landscapists who, like Drysdale and Nolan, have so imposed their personal visions upon a generation that we tend to see reality through their eyes.’

Point 5. Great works of art create their own reality, first seen through the creator.

He discovered a visual language to express a beautifully unique and spacious landscape only found in Australia. Notably, Williams took inspiration from the native Aboriginals in their traditional colour palette and intimate understanding of the dry harsh motherland.

Do you have any thoughts on this important Australian landscape painter? Please leave a message in the comments box below.
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© Copyright Simon Brushfield – Fred Williams the master landscape painter of Australia