In 1961, Fred Williams began his ground-breaking Forest Series. In it, for the first time he analysed the mid-section of a forest from an unprecedentedly close viewpoint, depicting tree trunks in columnar form. The series bears the hallmarks of Williams' experimentation with abstraction, for example in Abstract Composition (1959-60), but here the artist drew his inspiration from forests across Victoria, including Echuca in the north of the state, Sherbrooke in the heart of the Dandenong Ranges, and Mittagong in the southern highlands of New South Wales.
In Saplings, foreground and background are juxtaposed, one indistinguishable from the other, as is characteristic of works from the series. The cylindrical forms, in tones of ochre, mottled grey, black and cream form a rhythmic pattern across the board reminiscent of Sherbrooke (1961, Art Gallery of New South Wales collection). Here, "space, colour, texture are reduced to the minimum as Williams divides the sheet into an ever-tighter, tauter and more regular image of the forestHere, the manifold possibilities, shapes, forms and changing light of the bush, are held as a constant single image altering and varying as the saplings move the eye back and forth across the impenetrable surface." (P. McCaughey, Fred Williams, Sydney, 1980, p.143).