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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.

Fred Williams - Painter

1981
Rennie Ellis

type C photograph on paper (sheet: 36.3 cm x 26.1 cm, image: 33.0 cm x 22.5 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.

Rennie Ellis (1940–2003) was a photographer and writer. Founder and director of Brummels Gallery of Photography, Australia’s first gallery dedicated to photographs, Ellis published some seventeen books and his photographs, widely exhibited in Australia and overseas, are held in many public and private collections. The National Portrait Gallery acquired thirteen of his photographs following the exhibition Rennie Ellis: Aussies All, held at its Commonwealth Place Gallery in 2006.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2005
© Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive
www.RennieEllis.com.au

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

Rennie Ellis (age 41 in 1981)

Fred Williams (age 54 in 1981)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

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
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.

Bon Scott & Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia
Bon Scott & Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia
Bon Scott & Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia
Bon Scott & Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia

No shirt, no service

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

Bon Scott and Angus Young photographed by Rennie Ellis are part of a display celebrating summer and images of the shirtless male.

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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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