Fred Williams visited the Pilbara region of Western Australia for the first time in May 1979 at the invitation of his friend Sir Roderick Carnegie, then Chairman of CRA (now Rio Tinto Limited). He was so inspired by the unique qualities of this landscape and the possibilities it presented for his art that he visited again in early June of that year. By mid-June, he had produced a large number of gouaches depicting the dramatic landscape of this remote area.
The distillation of Williams’ physical and emotional experience of the Pilbara continued in the paintings, which he produced very quickly some two years later, between March and May 1981. Large in scale and striking in colour, they are powerfully evocative of the Pilbara and in many ways, operate as both symbolic and representational depictions of inland Australia.
Fred Williams’ Pilbara Series, comprising thirteen paintings and eighteen gouaches, was acquired by CRA in November 1981. In 2002 it was generously gifted to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). At the time the gift was made it was the most substantial corporate donation of works of art made to the NGV.
Aware of the enormous cultural significance of the Pilbara Series, and as part of our commitment to making the collection accessible, the NGV has actively supported opportunities for greater public interaction since receiving the gift. This has involved lending individual and groups of works from the series to other institutions and ensuring that, whenever possible, they are on public display at the NGV.
Fred Williams’ Pilbara Series is one of the most popular and treasured collections of landscape paintings produced by an Australian artist. As one of the few significant series of paintings to remain intact the importance is further emphasised by the fact that they were among the last works Williams painted before his death in 1982. I am delighted that the NGV is able to share these works with the people of Benalla and I commend Ivan Durrant and the Benalla Art Gallery for offering a new context in which this iconic series can viewed and enjoyed.
Director, National Gallery of Victoria