Fred Williams / Australia 1927–1982 / Echuca landscape 1961 / Oil on composition board / 122 x 143cm / Purchased 1982. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation/ Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

Fred Williams
Echuca landscape 1961

Not Currently on Display

It became obsessive with me . . . it is monotonous. There is no focal point, and . . . if there’s no focal point in a landscape it has to be built into the paint. I’m basically an artist who sees things in terms of paint.1

Echuca landscape 1961 demonstrates Fred Williams’s ability to reduce the complexities of the Australian landscape into clear and sophisticated compositions. Upon his return from Europe in 1956, Williams devoted himself to becoming a full-time artist. Using the techniques of the modern masters, Williams fills the entire picture plane; there is no figure or horizon here to locate the viewer. Judith White explains the effects of Williams’s approach:

His first landscapes, he said, came from looking at the post-impressionists, and Cézanne in particular. His early paintings of forests and saplings, at Mittagong and Sherbrooke, show a capacity to indicate the space between objects through the use of flat planes of colour, an approach that derives directly from the post-impressionist tradition.2

Yan Yean 1970 and Australian landscape III 1969, both in the Gallery’s collection, reveal Williams repeatedly refining the problems he encountered with the monotony of landscape and the development of pictorial forms into a language of abstraction, which came to describe a characteristic experience of the Australian bush. The dynamism with which Williams explores these forms in Echuca landscape is rich with this developing language.


1. Fred Williams, quoted in Julie Ewington, ‘Fred Williams: Painter, Print Maker’, Artlines, Issue 4, 2014, p.32.
2. Judith White, ‘Fred Williams: A life in landscape’, Australian Art Collector, Issue 8, 1999, p.75.

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.

Discussion Questions

1. Compare this painting to etching/prints by the artist of the same landscape. What key features of Echuca has the William’s focused on?

2. How would you describe the colours that the artist has used?


Choose a location that you visit regularly that has lots of trees (this could be your backyard or the local park). Without looking down at your paper, can you draw this place using only the lines that make up the landscape? Add colour to capture the atmosphere of your chosen place.