Olinda Hill from Foster's Garden, summer 1961 signed 'Fred Williams' lower centre watercolour on paper 39.5 x 57.0cm (15 9/16 x 22 7/16in).
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
The watercolours Fred Williams painted in and around Olinda in the summer of 1960-1 are an exceptional group within his oeuvre. They are pure watercolour without his customary gouache reinforcement, quite a rarity for Williams. Painted on the spot, the rapidity of execution required by the quick-drying medium maximised the spontaneity of the work and discouraged second thoughts or later re-workings. Williams could put down his responses and observations directly, immediately. It gave to the Olinda watercolours their light-filled radiance.
Williams' art was undergoing major changes when he painted them. He was grappling with his new and important forest and saplings paintings whose austerity and monumentality differed quite sharply from the Olinda pieces. Painting directly from nature, the watercolours offered him release and relief from the arduousness of the studio. Williams never failed before the motif and the landscape never failed him: it was and would remain throughout his career a source of renewal. The watercolours were pure painting to him, letting the patches and washes of colour jostle together without imposing a structure upon them. They are the first occasion in Williams' work where the touches and patches of paint form the entire work and so anticipate in an important way the You Yang landscapes and their successors through the 1960s.
Williams was hardly the first painter to let his watercolour technique influence his oil painting practice. Here Cezanne is the looming presence whose late paintings often emulate the fragmentary looseness and luminosity of his watercolours. At Olinda Williams formulated a landscape of flow and flux. Nothing stands still. They challenged him to produce oil paintings of similar mobility and ease of handling.
Part of the beauty of these watercolours, especially true of Olinda Hill from Foster's garden, summer, comes from their decorative unity. The same palette irrigates and enlivens the whole extensive view to the curving ridge and on to the blue hemisphere of Olinda Hill. The earth and the sky enjoy a perfect dialogue with Williams subtly lightening and aerating his skies in the same palette of pinks, yellows, greens and blue with which he picks out the foreground. Unusually for Williams we have a clear sense of atmosphere, even the weather, in this watercolour as the clouds blow from left to right, animating this deceptively simple work.
Equally unusual for Williams and no less beguiling was the amplitude of the space he conjured up in this modestly scaled watercolour. Without stressing it or breaking the flow of air and light, Williams moves us securely from the foreground garden - denser and more emphatically brushed to the middle distance of the ridge with his signature gum trees exploding on the horizon line to the comfortable blue slopes of Olinda Hill. Yet it is a space entirely for the eye to traverse. He never descends to creating a conventional landscape with a stage-like space we can walk ourselves into. Ever the modernist, Williams reminds us tactfully that we are looking at a watercolour, not another view of the Dandenongs.
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