Young gum, Foster's garden, Summer 1961 signed 'Fred Williams' lower left watercolour on paper 38.0 x 34.5cm (14 15/16 x 13 9/16in).
PROVENANCE Dr Harold Hattam, Melbourne By descent, private collection Niagara Galleries, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1993
EXHIBITED Possibly Fred Williams, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 20 June 1961
Martin and Nance Foster were old friends of Fred Williams. He had known them from his London years when they lived in West Wittering and where the artist had painted some of his best English landscapes. He renewed the friendship with them when they settled in the Dandenong Ranges. Fred Williams met his future wife, Lyn Watson, at the Fosters' and that may well have shaped the euphoric atmosphere of this brilliant watercolour. Williams was a master of various media but he used watercolour comparatively rarely compared to gouache, which was his favoured medium on paper. A group of watercolours of 1960-1 drew on Olinda subjects, an attractive part of the Dandenongs and the home of Sir Arthur Streeton in his later years. Williams maximises the fluidity and transparency of the medium. Watercolour offered the artist a different palette from his oil paintings and he clearly delighted in the spontaneity required by its quick drying qualities. The relaxed accomplishment of this watercolour shows how deftly Williams could vary his practice as an artist. The concentrated labour of the studio gives way to his natural talent for painting directly from nature. It released his hand and gave spirit to his touch.
Young gum possibly reflects the passing influence of Ivon Hitchens, the eminent 20th century British landscape painter whose animated and expressive blocks of colour and gestural sweep were much admired in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The National Gallery of Victoria had acquired in 1946 Hitchens' exceptionally fine, early work, Home farm, Iping 1944 and the work would have been familiar to Williams ever since his time as a student at the Gallery School. The bold, blocky washes of the watercolour are akin to the animated masses found in the Hitchens. Where the English painter favoured a restrained, overcast palette, Williams gave his summer garden a glowing translucency. Hitchens' strength lay in his fusion of separate elements of the landscape into an energetic whole. Williams responded in kind letting his refulgent garden erupt into the sky.
The garden theme is an interesting one for a landscape painter. It projects a landscape within a landscape as Williams suggests here. In 1975 Williams returned to the subject in The botanist's garden (St Andrews). He had come across this garden by chance. Planted and planned by a botanist many years earlier, the garden had now run wild, forming a natural paradise. Williams treated it sumptuously and vigorously in the full spate of his new high-keyed palette of the 1970s. The garden, whether it was the Fosters' at Olinda or the botanist's at St Andrews, became for Williams the focus of renewal and regeneration where the surging forces of nature could be held and observed. It was the landscape in nuce a world within the world.