Although Fred Williams is best known as a landscape artist, his training and early work was grounded in figuration. In late 1943, at the age of sixteen, he enrolled in the National Gallery School, Melbourne, where he undertook drawing classes. He subsequently studied painting with William Dargie who advocated a subtle, tonal approach and also received tuition from modernist painter, George Bell, who ran private classes.
Williams adopted what he needed from both teachers, balancing artistic tradition with a spirit of innovation. He also embarked on a process of self education, studying works in public galleries and reading as much as he could about art. His interest in European and Australian art would continue through his life.
From 1952 until late 1956, having made the pilgrimage from Melbourne to London, Williams regularly visited art galleries and museums. In London he worked in the framing business of Robert Savage. During this time he attended classes at the Chelsea Art School and undertook etching at the Central School of Art. His subjects included Music Hall performers and working people involved in activities of daily life. It was after his return to Australia in 1957 that the local landscape became the main focus of his art.