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Australian art

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Waterfall polyptych



Fred Williams

Australia, England

23 Jan 1927 - 22 Apr 1982


"My enthusiasm was fired by the von Guérard Waterfall, Strath Creek in the Sydney Gallery. It was a picture I've always admired and I made a free copy of it about fifteen years ago and had forgotten it and put it aside ... One day
I woke up and thought, well actually I wouldn't mind going around and looking at more of them."
- Fred Williams 1981

One of the most important works of Williams' entire oeuvre, 'Waterfall polyptych' uniquely demonstrates Williams' capacity for formal inventiveness through landscape.

In February 1979 he visited the Lal Lal Falls to the west of Melbourne near Ballarat, painting four successive canvases to recreate the dramatic alteration in light during the day. He then painted 'Waterfall polyptych', re-inventing the monumental dark indigo form and spectacular scale of the waterfall to evoke his subject as a miraculous element in the rocky landscape. As in other paintings from Williams' waterfall series, key influences came from Oriental art and from Cézanne's late paintings of the quarry at Bibémus.

Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2000




Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


four panels: each panel 153.0 x 122.0 cm stretcher; each panel 154.0 x 123.5 x 6.3 cm frame; 154.0 x 494.0 x 6.3 cm overall :

a - left panel, 153 x 122 cm

b - centre left panel, 153 x 122 cm

c - centre right panel, 153 x 122 cm

d - right panel, 153 x 122 cm

Signature & date

Signed l.l. right panel, black oil "Fred Williams". Not dated.


Purchased with assistance from the H.G. Slater Foundation 1980


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Fred Williams

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 13 publications


Helen Campbell, Look, 'Waterfall: an inspiration to travellers and artists', pg. 19, Sydney, Jun 2006, 19.

Deborah Edwards, Two centuries of Australian painting: a selection from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Introduction', pg. 8-14, Sydney, 1986, 46 (illus.). 53

Deborah Hart, Fred Williams: infinite horizons, 'Rediscovering landscape', pg. 132-155, Canberra, 2011, 138, 164, 170, 171, 172-173 (colour illus.), 211 (colour illus.) [panel a], 229.

Deborah Hart, Fred Williams: infinite horizons: secondary school education resource, Canberra, 2011, (colour illus.) [panel c]. 'Art history' card

Hendrik Kolenberg, Look, 'Celebrating Fred Williams', pg. 24-25, Sydney, Nov 2004, 24.

Patrick McCaughey, Fred Williams 1927-1982, 'Thematic landscapes: 1975-81. Pool, mountain, gorge and waterfall', pg. 272-305, Kensington, 1987, 302-303, 304-305 (colour illus.). plate no. 192

James Mollison, A singular vision: the art of Fred Williams, Canberra, 1989, 224-225, 224-225 (colour illus.).

James Mollison (Curator), Fred Williams: a retrospective, Canberra, 1987, 29 (illus.).

Barry Pearce, Fifteen decades of Australian paintings, Sydney, 1981, 34-35 (colour illus.). 15

Barry Pearce, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape and gesture', pg. 239-240, Sydney, 2000, 254-255 (colour illus.), 302.

Barry Pearce, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Australian Art', pg. 5-26, Sydney, 1981, 6, 7, 24 (illus.). 49

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 33, 34.

Judith White, Look, 'An artist's homage', pg. 18-20, Melbourne, Feb 2000, 20.