Leonard French

(b. 1928)

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(1928– )

Australian painter, active mainly in his native Melbourne. He was apprenticed to a sign-writer, which encouraged him to think as a muralist, and studied at night at the Melbourne Technical College, 1944–7. In 1949 he worked his passage to England and met Alan Davie in London. He visited Ireland and studied the heavy, intertwined shapes of Celtic art, but the work of Gromaire and Permeke, and later that of Delaunay and Léger, exercised a more direct influence on the paintings he produced after his return to Melbourne in 1952. Although his pictures often involved literary or religious imagery, his style became semi-abstract and intuitively evolved: ‘I don't really know what I am going to paint; it has to grow up in the process of one colour on top of another.’ His mature style emerged in the early 1960s in a series of paintings inspired by reading Evelyn Waugh's biography of the 16th-century Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion. These paintings best express French's ideal of the heroic, in which the spiritual will battles with and yet is in a sense contained by the mechanical, the seasonal, and the cyclical. In 1962–3 French lived for a time in Greece. On returning to Melbourne he was commissioned to design a stained-glass ceiling for the Great Hall of the new National Art Gallery of Victoria.

Subjects: Art.

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