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Self portrait at easel
, 1960-61

by Fred Williams

oil on masonite (frame: 100.8 cm x 72.6 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, Canberra
Gift of Lyn Williams 1998
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 1998.7