Summer Snow at Perisher, 1976 signed 'Fred Williams' lower left oil on canvas 134.8 x 152.7cm (53 1/16 x 60 1/8in).
PROVENANCE Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney (label attached verso) Ms Dawn O'Donnell, Sydney The Dawn O'Donnell Bequest: NIDA Foundation, Sydney Deutscher-Menzies, Australian & International Fine Art, Sydney, 16 December 2009, lot 33 Private collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED Fred Williams: A Retrospective, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 7 November 1987 - 31 January 1988, cat. 170 (illus.) Fred Williams: Paintings, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 26 April - 4 June 1994, cat. 6
LITERATURE James Mollison, A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. 197 (illus.) Art and Australia, Sydney, vol. 31, no. 3, Autumn 1994, p. 305 (illus.)
Summer Snow at Perisher 1976 was painted in the mid seventies during a time of great transition in the work of Fred Williams, particularly in terms of palette, perspective and approach to his subject matter. As the decade opened the artist found a new palette and expressiveness, which would transform his art. Patrick McCaughey comments, 'The 1974 landscapes mark the turning-point. The difficulties, the great challenge in method, colour and subject matter, were confronted in the studio and absorbed into Williams's new grand manner.'1 The refined minimalist landscapes of the 1960s gave way to a new expressionism with paint applied in richly-coloured daubs as though Williams was giving air to the most minute forest flower, the kaleidoscopic colours of sky reflected in a pool or the thick tangle of dense bush. This metamorphosis was clear in 1972 73, in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery, which is definitively Matisse-like in its lavish use of exotic colours. Notably, he began to record changes in weather conditions and light throughout the course of the day as can be observed in the triptych of 1974 and he dramatically broadened his subject matter beyond the welltravelled confines of the Victorian landscape. Images of the Queensland rainforest emerged, along with the South Australian coastline and Erith Island off the Tasmanian coast.
Against this backdrop came a concise but remarkable series of works depicting the Kosciuszko National Park painted in the grand romantic tradition of Turner in the Italian Alps and Eugene von Guérard in the Snowy Mountains over a century before Williams. In 1972 Williams was appointed to the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board and in 1975 he was appointed to the Interim Council of the Australian National Gallery in Canberra (now the National Gallery of Australia). Both roles brought him to Canberra regularly and in the summer of 1975 Williams and his family stayed with friends in the Kosciuszko Ranges.2 He observed, 'It's the kind of country you have to be born into or be just plain 'hardy' but tremendously attractive to look at. The fascinating patches of snow form themselves into inventive shapes...the day has everything weather wise. There is rain, sleet & snow, lowering blue clouds and brilliant sunshine'.3 Despite the weather fluctuations Williams worked whenever the conditions permitted capturing the unique beauty of summer wildflowers, dried grasses, exposed rocks and the drifts of snow left behind in the cold shadows after late spring snow falls had melted. He captured the fast moving mists and cloud formations and the elemental sense felt by simply being in the mountains. He wrote, 'I find a secluded spot away from people & the wind & I make a very large effort. Working on half a dozen pictures it strikes me as being a very dark landscape... The shapes of the snow are fascinating & some of the sketches I attempt to do "portraits" of certain areas the snow areas!'4 McCaughey comments that Williams made a number of photographs of Guthega and Kosciuszko when flying back and forth to Canberra in both 1975 and 1976 and it is this aerial perspective that is found in 1976 and the related work 1976-77, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. The power and mastery of the series was acknowledged at the time they were painted when in 1976 Williams won the Wynne Prize for 1976 and the Trustees' Watercolour Prize for his gouache.
1 Patrick McCaughey, Fred Williams 1927-1982, Murdoch Books, Sydney 1996 (revised edition), p. 263 2 Op.cit., McCaughey pp. 224-225 3 Fred Williams diary quoted in Deborah Hart, Fred Williams Infinite Horizons, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2011, p. 142 4 Ibid. p. 142-43.