Arguably the most monumental of Australian artists, Leonard French experienced extraordinary fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of French’s most available work still commands the respect and awe of the public: none more so than his glass ceiling of the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria, but also the windows of the National Library of Australia, the Regeneration mural in the hall of Canberra’s University House, and the Blackwood Hall windows at Monash University. Yet, at the peak of his fame, he turned his back on the glamour and pressure of the Melbourne art scene to seek solitude in an old mill in Heathcote, central Victoria. French spent over forty years there working productively; he died in Melbourne just a year ago.
A ruggedly attractive man, he married three times and fathered seven children. Friends were important to him; they included John Brack, Fred Williams, Jan Senbergs and Rudy Koman. His remarkable life has been celebrated in a handsome biography – The Boy from Brunswick: Leonard French by Reg MacDonald (Australian Scholarly Publishing). I bought a copy from the delightful bookshop of the National Library of Australia which seemed apt in view of the impact his marvellous stained glass windows have in that impressive building. The last book about French by Sasha Grishin was published in 1995; time now to completely record his achievements. This new book with numerous illustrations is a worthy and informative tribute.
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