How the world's largest stained-glass ceiling came to life in Melbourne's NGV

There's more to Melbourne than shopping and eating - the next time you visit the city, check out a glass masterpiece in the National Gallery of Victoria.

This stained glass ceiling in Melbourne is a record-breaker.
  • Kaitlyn Palmer-Allen
  • July 2019

Look up as the sun passes over the ceiling of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Great Hall, where 10,000 pieces of hand-cut coloured glass transform the room with a kaleidoscopic display of light. This dazzling canopy at the NGV International building on Melbourne’s St Kilda Road not only looks impressive, it is the largest stained-glass ceiling in the world.

In 1963, local artist Leonard French was commissioned to create the coloured cutglass artwork. He’d never worked with glass so it took him five years to design and make but the result is a stunning 15-metre by 51-metre masterpiece that is suspended 13 metres above the ground.

The late artist used a hammer and anvil to split more than 50 different colours of 25-millimetre-thick glass, which were then fused into 224 triangular elements. Each triangle weighs up to 300 kilograms and together they create a “Persian carpet of light” that incorporates imagery from nature.

A series of slim steel pillars help support the structure from below and there’s only one way to fully appreciate the gigantic proportions of this artwork – lying on the floor and watching the light dance across the ceiling.