Working from reality, often seeking out landscapes that might seem unexceptional a casual observer, Fred Williams created an entirely new vision of rich colour, subtle texture and powerful abstracted form. Born in Melbourne, trained as an artist there and in London, he returned to Australia to take his place as one of the greatest Australian painters of his generation. He was among the leading figures in Rudy Komon’s celebrated ‘stable’ of artists.
When Williams painted Water pond in a landscape II, he was living with his family at Upwey, in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne. He sketched regularly at Lysterfield, not far away, and the resultant paintings, completed over about four years between 1965 and 1969, in their complexity, individuality and variety, are regarded as ‘a key to the artist’s maturity’.¹ As James Mollison observes, ‘The decorative element of the artist’s work resurfaces in the Lysterfield pond paintings of early 1966. In these works, flat areas of bright colour contrast with the black water of the pond’.2 In Water pond in a landscape II the composition is divided into four horizontal tiers of colour. There is a suggestion of undulating country in the middle distance; combined with the essential abstracted flatness of the plain – in which trees seem almost to float rather than stand rooted in the ground. John Henshaw, after seeing the painting at Rudy Komon’s gallery admired the way in which the dark depths of the pool convey a sense of pre-dawn light; and suggested that the water, strikingly set against scorched brown or orange earth, might have been blackened by bushfire ash.
As Elwyn Lynn wrote after first seeing Water pond in a landscape II, ‘Williams’ remote intimacy is almost Chinese in its mixture of immediate gesture, of spontaneous notation, with contemplation and serenity’. James Gleeson, writing for the Sydney Sun, said, ‘His exhibition of oils and etchings at the Rudy Komon Gallery is one of those remarkable achievements that are destined to remain in the memory as a landmark, for it is certain that we will see no better exhibition than this for a long time to come’. A reviewer in the Sunday Telegraph declared, ‘This is Komon’s finest show this year and Williams’ best in Sydney ever’.3 Water pond in a landscape II epitomises Williams’s mastery of the Australian landscape and the way in which, in Gleeson’s words, he could go to the least conventionally pictorial of our landscapes for the substance of his paintings, and reshape our world for us.
We are most grateful to Mrs Lyn Williams for assistance in cataloguing this work.
1. McCaughey, P., Fred Williams 1927-1982, Bay Books, Sydney, rev. edn 1987, p. 184.
2. Mollison, J., A Singular Vision: the art of Fred Williams, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, and Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. 109.
3. Gleeson, J., ‘Williams is at his best’, The Sun, 12 October 1966 and see the Sydney Sun Herald, 23 October 1966, p. 101; ‘Fred Williams’, The Sunday Telegraph, 16 October 1966.
Oil on canvas
Fred Williams, Rudy Komon Art Gallery, Sydney, 12 October - 12 November 1966, cat. 3
152.5 by 122 cm
John Henshaw, 'A new look at the bush', The Australian, 15 October 1966
Elwyn Lynn, 'Poetic Bushland, Fred Williams', The Bulletin, 22 October 1966
Patrick McCaughey, Fred Williams, Bay Books, Sydney, 1980, pp. 174-175, pl. 83
James Mollison, A Singular Vision: the art of Fred Williams, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1989, p. 108, illus. and pp. 109-10
Katrina Strickland, 'New bloom - a change of perspective', The Australian Financial Review, 7 September 2006, p. 20, illus.
Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney (label on the reverse)
Purchased for a corporate collection
Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 1976
Collection of Ted Lustig, Melbourne