We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Death and transfiguration



Leonard French


08 Oct 1928 – 10 Jan 2017

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    synthetic polymer paint, collage and gold leaf on jute canvas on hardboard
    122.6 x 137.9 cm board; 124.8 x 140.2 x 3.8 cm frame
    Signature & date

    Signed c. verso on board, black oil ".../.../ LEONARD FRENCH/.../". Not dated.

    Purchased with assistance from the Sir Charles Lloyd Jones Bequest Fund 1962
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Art Gallery of New South Wales

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Leonard French

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Metamorphosis from life to death - from the sea ascend-
    ing - flesh-image wrapped in the already breaking
    winding-sheets. Campion is dead - fish alive swim
    in a dark sea - in a soft sky the other regal fish
    disintegrates without pain.

    Leonard French, work-notes for 'Death and transfiguration'

    'Death and transfiguration' is one of a series of twelve paintings based on the life of the sixteenth century Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion, the first and most famous of the British Jesuit martyrs who was hanged, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered on December 1, 1581.

    French's work was influenced by the massive forms of Romanesque architecture and the structure of mosaic, as well as with the work of Belgian painter Constant Permeke, Robert Delauney's circle and Leger's candid juxtapositions of colour. His sources were often literary, and the theme of the heroic voyage, both as a physical and spiritual journey, is one which continually emerged in French's work, presenting a rich insight into the psychology of heroism.

    French left school at the age of 14 to become an apprentice sign-writer, where he gained invaluable knowledge of materials and techniques. His distinctive built-up enamel and gilded surfaces are exquisitely crafted with the utmost precision, and utilise a repertoire of geometric devices: circle and hemisphere, square and rectangle, plant and fish-form within a controlled, web-like schema.

    Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2001

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 5 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 12 publications

Other works by Leonard French

See all 15 works