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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.

Murray Bail, 1980-81

Fred Williams

oil on canvas (frame: 185.7 cm x 125.3 cm, support: 182.0 cm x 121.8 cm)

Murray Bail (b. 1941) is a writer. Born in Adelaide, Bail spent some years in India and England in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In London, he wrote for the Transatlantic Review and the Times Literary Supplement. His first published fiction was Contemporary Portraits and Other Stories (1975), which was reissued in 1986 as The Drover’s Wife and Other Stories. His novels include Holden’s Performance (1987) and Homesickness (1998). In 1981, Bail saw the publication of his lyrical monograph on the artist Ian Fairweather, which was republished with significant revisions, including four extra chapters, in 2009. Described as ‘one of our most remarkable fabulists’, Bail has won tremendous critical acclaim and a number of major Australian literary honours, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Miles Franklin Award for the beguiling Eucalyptus (1998). In 2005 he released his Notebooks 1970–2003. His subsequent novels include The Pages (2008) and The Voyage (2012).

Fred Williams’s (1927–1982) oils and gouaches of the Australian landscape are central to the body of twentieth-century Australian art, yet at the beginning of his career, he mostly painted figures. While artists such as Sidney Nolan or Arthur Boyd used the landscape to intensify the desperation or doom of the figures in their works, Williams implied no relationship between figure and surroundings. Indeed, his ‘impersonality’ has been described as Williams’s distinctive contribution to Australian landscape painting. Although much of his best-known work is severe and sparing, Williams himself was a genial and well-loved man, and produced a number of striking representations of his friends and associates. His portrait of Bail was painted while both men were Council members of the National Gallery of Australia.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of an anonymous donor 1999
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Fred Williams

Accession number: 1999.69

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Fred Williams (age 53 in 1980)

Murray Bail (age 39 in 1980)

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.

Clifton Pugh painting in the studio, 1974 Fred Williams
Clifton Pugh painting in the studio, 1974 Fred Williams
Clifton Pugh painting in the studio, 1974 Fred Williams
Clifton Pugh painting in the studio, 1974 Fred Williams

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.

Dame Mary Gilmore, c. 1938 Lyall Trindall
Dame Mary Gilmore, c. 1938 Lyall Trindall
Dame Mary Gilmore, c. 1938 Lyall Trindall
Dame Mary Gilmore, c. 1938 Lyall Trindall

Painting writing

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2007

Dr Sarah Engledow explores the portraits of writers held in the National Portrait Gallery's collection.

Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner

Portraits for Posterity

Previous exhibition, 2006

Drawn from some of the many donations made to the Gallery's collection, the exhibition Portraits for Posterity pays homage both to the remarkable (and varied) group of Australians who are portrayed in the portraits and the generosity of the many donors who have presented them to the Gallery.

We would like to thank our partners.
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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.