The Kings

Leonard French

The Kings by Leonard French


Leonard French
The Kings
glass and enamel on composition board
two panels, 122 x 50.5 cm each

two panels from the original three

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Australian Paintings, Christies, Melbourne, March 1975, lot 445


Sothebys, Sydney, 2005, lot 59

private collection, Melbourne


Leonard French The Odyssey Series, Victorian Artists Society, 1 Oct 1955


Grishin, S., Leonard French, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1955, pp. 21, 23, illus. p. 158

Further Information

Leonard French, celebrated for the much-loved stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria strode his own path creating a unique oeuvre wrought from a diverse range of influences including Celtic and Byzantine art; murals and the work of Ferdinand Leger; as well as literary references including grand narratives from religion, myth and legend.


French burst onto the art scene in the 1950s with his earliest exhibitions between 1949 and 1958 establishing his fame and he was championed by important figures such as Alan McCulloch and Victor Greenhalgh.


The two panels The Kings are from an original set of three, known as Three Kings which were shown in the 1955 based around Homer’s Odyssey – with recurrent themes of epic narrative, the heroic and humanity. They are vividly coloured paintings gliding between figuration and abstraction. The regal figures emerge from the jumble of geometric shapes amidst the compelling use of colour, with an emphasis on texture heightened by the mosaic use of pieces of glass, as carefully positioned as in a window. The Kings “has a quiet, solemn, distilled power” 1. befitting figures from this Greek epic.


Sasha Grishin in his monograph on French notes of The Kings, they “are suggestive of form without codified attributes; they pertain to verbal texts without a trace of literary illustrativeness and they denote explosive energy while retaining a self-contained quality. It was this unconventional roughness, yet great dramatic power, and the fairly traditional sense of the narrative and epic sequence which made Leonard French’s paintings appear so enigmatic on the Australian contemporary art scene.”2.


The poet Vincent Buckley notes the themes explored in the Odyssey series of “danger, hope, struggle, confrontation, heroic venture, heroic stance and the heroic death” describing them as personal preoccupations of the artist, suggesting that for French “the use of Homeric myths was not merely illustrative, but reflected his preoccupation with the fate of human beings in a mechanised society.”3.


  1. Grishin, S., Leonard French, Craftsman House, 1995, p.23
  2. Grishin, 1995, p. 21
  3. Buckley, V., Leonard French The Campion Paintings, Grayflower, 1962, p.14

copyright Estate of Leonard French. Courtesy Charles Nodrum Gallery.