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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Self portrait at easel

1960-1961
Fred Williams

oil on masonite (frame: 100.8 cm x 75.3 cm, support: 89.1 cm x 61.0 cm)

Fred Williams OBE (1927–1982), painter and etcher, was one of the most important Australian artists of the twentieth century. His unique landscape vision emerged in the late 1950s, after his return from a period of study and work in London. The 1960s saw an increasing minimalism in his paintings, which reached its most extreme point at the end of the decade. In his monumental works of 1969, he attempted to evoke the vast scale of the Australian land through canvases of a single colour dotted with tiny flecks of paint. Although Williams later turned to representation of denser, more colourful country, his bare, uncompromising pictures of the 1960s contributed profoundly to subsequent interpretation of the Australian landscape. Williams painted few self portraits; this painting, one of the very first acquisitions of the National Portrait Gallery, was the last and most considered of them. The quiet assurance of the artist, dressed rather formally in suit and tie, coincides with the increasing maturity of his landscape vision in the early 1960s. The work of painting is emphasised; here is no tousle-haired, tortured genius but a diffident, sober man going about his business. Although the self portrait seems quite different from a ‘typical’ Williams landscape, the treatment of the jacket is reminiscent of that of rocks and trees in his landscapes of the same period and the work is characteristically enlivened with touches of vibrant colour on cheekbones and ears.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Lyn Williams 1998
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Fred Williams

Artist and subject

Fred Williams (age 33 in 1960)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

Lyn Williams (4 portraits)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Painting mates

Magazine article by Michael Desmond, 2011

Michael Desmond discusses Fred Williams' portraits of friends, artist Clifton Pugh, David Aspden and writer Stephen Murray-Smith, and the stylistic connections between his portraits and landscapes.

Facing Facts

Magazine article by Andrew Sayers AM, 2003

Former NPG Director, Andrew Sayers describes the 1922 Self-portrait with Gladioli by George Lambert.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency