Leonard French

1928–

Leonard French first worked as a farm hand and signwriter before becoming an artist and is best known for the huge stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1963.

He completed a number of large mural scale artworks in Melbourne using a range of materials including stained glass, tapestry, mosaics and paint. After 1970 he devoted his energy to stained glass murals completing commissions for Monash and Latrobe universities in 1971 and 1978 and 47 windows for Haileybury College, Keysborough in 1987.

The work in our art collection, Iconoclast, was first shown in John Reid’s Museum of Modern Art of Australia in 1958. The work depicts a mechanised world driven by machine cog-like forms. The painting moves from a rather abstract repetition of circles to clearly identifiable traffic lights and telephone dials.

Note the layering of paint and the glazing — the artist achieving a glass-like glow, presaging his interest in stained glass. Also visible in this work is evidence of the artist’s interest in the art and iconography of the Celts and Byzantium Greeks.

Leonard French became increasingly religious throughout his life. He regarded the crosses and circle forms, though taken from banal commonplace sources such as telephone dials, with great religious import. For French, the circle was not just a wheel but a sign or object from a religious story and he became very interested in the idea of the hero and the crucifixion of Christ.