Fred Williams / Australia 1927–82 / Australian landscape III 1969 / Oil on canvas / 148.8 x 198cm / Purchased 1991. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Lyn Williams / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Fred Williams

Fred Williams
Australian landscape III 1969

Not Currently on Display

Australian landscape III 1969 is part of a series in which Fred Williams strove, for the first time, to convey the vast scale of the Australian landscape.

After flying over the outback, Williams was inspired to paint aerial views capturing the immense space of the country, which appears to stretch out so far that it swallows the horizon. Over the course of creating the series (of which this is the third iteration), Williams developed a highly abstract style that is recognised as one of the first truly Australian depictions of the landscape that does not simply apply European conventions.

The vertical lines emphasise the immensity of the landscape, just as lines on a map relate scale and distance. They also represent roads and fence lines, together with clusters of long grass and small trees that often follow such lines, especially when seen from the air.

Fred Williams was born in 1927 in Melbourne. At the age of 16, he enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School where he was influenced by the teachings of Sir William Dargie who was head of the school at the time. He went on to attend the George Bell Art School in Melbourne, which introduced him to French Modernism.

In 1951 he travelled to London, where he studied at the Chelsea School of Art and regularly visited the British Museum. When Williams returned to Australia in 1957, he was struck by the landscape and proceeded to refine his aesthetic and techniques to develop a distinct, now iconic, interpretation of the Australian bush.

In the late 1970s, Williams embarked on numerous flight expeditions over northern Australia, including to Weipa on Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula and the Pilbara region of Western Australia. His ochre-rich minimalist aesthetic evolved through a unique mix of influences, aerial observations, and the interplay between printmaking, gouache, watercolour and oils.

From his early works of the 1960s to those he created just before his death in 1982, Williams shows an obvious empathy and affinity with the Australian landscape. He received the Order of the British Empire in 1976 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of law by Monash University in 1980.


James Mollison, ‘Williams, Frederick Ronald (Fred) (1927–1982)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 18, 2012.