Sunday, 26 July 2015


“As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony or sound or of colour. The great musicians knew this. Beethoven and the rest wrote music – simply music, symphony in this key, concerto or sonata in that.” – James Abbott McNeill Whistler

LeRoy Leveson Laurent Joseph (Roy) de Maistre (1894-1968), painter, was born LeRoi Levistan de Mestre on 27 March 1894 at Maryvale, Bowral, New South Wales, son of Etienne Livingstone de Mestre, gentleman, and his wife Clara Eliza, née Rowe, and grandson of Prosper de Mestre. From 1898 the family lived at Mount Valdemar, Sutton Forest, where he was educated by tutors and governesses. In 1913 Roi went to Sydney to study the violin and viola at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, and painting at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales, under Norman Carter and Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, who encouraged interest in Post-Impressionism. He also studied at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School.

In 1916, as Roi Livingstone de Mestre, he tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force; he was accepted for home service, as his chest measurement was not up to standard. Discharged in 1917 with general debility, he became interested in the treatment of shell-shock patients by putting them in rooms painted in soothing colour combinations. In November 1916, as Roi de Mestre, he had first exhibited. That year’s paintings were Impressionist interiors and landscapes, impasted and concerned with the effects of light. With the Conservatorium director's son, Adrien Verbrugghen, he theorised about the relationship between painting, music and colour.

In 1919 he devised a colour–music theory that allied the colours of the spectrum to musical scales and, with fellow artist Roland Wakelin, held an exhibition of eleven paintings and five room designs based on this theory. The paintings are characterised by simplified forms, large areas of flat paint and heightened, non-representational colour. De Maistre was influenced by international art, but these works are a unique Australian hybrid of Post-Impressionism.

Further experiments in 1919 led de Maistre to produce Australia’s first abstract paintings. From 1923 to 1925 he was in Europe on a travelling scholarship. On his return to Sydney he held two solo exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries (1926, 1928), worked on room and furniture designs and lectured on modern art. In 1930 he returned to London where he lived until his death. De Maistre’s work of the 1930s comprised mainly Surrealist paintings and renewed colour–music experiments, such as “Arrested Phrase from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Red Major” (1935; Canberra, N.G.). After 1940 he developed a decorative Cubist style. Following his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1949 he concentrated on religious paintings (e.g. the “Stations of the Cross”, 1956; London, Westminster Cathedral), studio interiors (“Interior with Lamp”, 1953; London, Tate), flower paintings and portraits.

The painting above, “Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor” was painted in 1919 and is considered the first abstract Australian painting. It exemplifies de Maistre’s theory of colour harmonisation based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale. It is also aligned with de Maistre’s search for spiritual meaning through abstraction, akin to other artists such as Kandinsky who were interested in the ideas of the theosophy and anthroposophy movements, spiritualism and the occult. The painting is in oils on paperboard and its dimensions are 85.3 x 115.3 cm. It is exhibited in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I know some of his figurative painting. He was a friend of Patrick White.I had no idea he was related to the de Mestres. They are quite a well know musical family here.