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Murray Bail
, 1980-81

by 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, Canberra
Gift of an anonymous donor 1999
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 1999.69