Bayswater Landscape - Fred Williams

May 3, 2021

Fred Williams

Bayswater Landscape, 1959

52.5 x 67.5 cmoil on boardSoldSigned lower left: Fred Williams. Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist. Private collection, Victoria. The Estate of Kenneth Baulch, Victoria. Private collection, Melbourne. Exhibited: Fred Williams, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 12 - 21 May 1959, cat. no.19 (label verso). Other Notes: © Estate of Fred Williams/Copyright Agency, 2020 Bayswater Landscape 1959 is one of the first major paintings that Fred Williams created for his solo exhibition at Australian Galleries that same year. This series of early works, referred to by many as 'Treescapes', has been widely documented as a significant turning point for Williams in his career and the impact he had on the Australian art scene during the 20th century. Williams dedicated his entire practice to the outdoors and the geographically unique nature of the Australian landscape. Many works by Williams from this period now belong to prominent museum collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Upon returning to Australia in 1956 from studying abroad, Williams set out to challenge his perception of the humble gum tree and reacquaint himself with the now unfamiliar surroundings of the outskirts of Melbourne. Captivated by Cubist artist Georges Braque and the geometric nature of Cézanne's landscapes, Williams began a journey of experimentation with these new ideas in tow. This inspired approach saw him strip back his formal foundations and traditional perceptions of Australian landscape painting. In Bayswater Landscape 1959, Williams' innovative use of abstract form is seen in his reduction of complex subjects to lines and circles. His boulder-like forms and geometric lines are brought together by dark outlines executed with a sophisticated palette of pale blues, greens, ochres and impasto-like creams, strongly resembling major work Sherbrooke Forrest 1961 (Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales). When in discussion with the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1961, Williams comments on how odd the Australian landscape seemed to him, 'It always worried me that there was no focal point in it, so I simply thought, well I'll paint it and I'll leave the focal point out'. Bayswater Landscape 1959 similarly leaves the viewer unattached to a focal point, but rather following the sequence of vertical trees in perfect composition across the board. The year 1959 also saw the development of the influential artist group, The Antipodeans, including Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, John Perceval and John Brack whose ideas were centred around concepts of identity, the human body and all shared a commitment to the figurative image. Williams, friends with most of these members, was not invited to join, perhaps being perceived as too experimental or abstract at the time. In spite of this, once receiving notoriety in the galleries, he did eventually receive an invitation - which he declined. Another sign of his individualistic character and willingness to develop artistically without the influence of other styles emerging on the art scene during the early 1960's in Australia. Williams effectively challenged not only traditional conventions of Australian landscape painting, but also defied all customary aesthetic principles of painting itself. He singlehandedly re-invented the depiction of the gum tree, dedicating his career to this subject and followed his own non-conformist path to artistic success. This up-ending approach of traditional techniques, is exemplified in the inventive handling of both paint, form and composition in Bayswater Landscape 1959.