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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

1980-1981
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), writer, was born in Adelaide and spent several 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 book of short stories, Contemporary Portraits and Other Stories, was published in England in 1975. His first novel Homesickness (1980) won the National Book Council Award and shared the Age Book of the Year Award; Holden's Performance (1987) won the 1988 Victorian Premier's Award for fiction. Bail wrote a lyrical monograph on the artist Ian Fairweather in 1981, which was republished in 2009. Described as 'one of our most remarkable fabulists', Bail has won 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). His subsequent novels include The Pages (2008) and The Voyage (2012). In 2021 he published his collection of autobiographical writings, He.

Although much of his best-known landscape work is severe and sparing, Fred Williams himself was a genial and well-loved man, and produced a number of striking representations of his friends. His portrait of Bail was painted while both men were Council members of the National Gallery of Australia. Represented as slight, rumpled and ordinary, Bail looks diffident, even a little sheepish, but at the same time a man who may conceivably be cogitating a low-key story strangely irresistible to the listener.

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

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Fred Williams (age 53 in 1980)

Murray Bail (age 39 in 1980)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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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
Clifton Pugh painting in the studio
Clifton Pugh painting in the studio
Clifton Pugh painting in the studio

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
Dame Mary Gilmore
Dame Mary Gilmore
Dame Mary Gilmore

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.

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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