ROY DE MAISTRE
Arrested phase from Haydn Trio in orange-red minor 19/19/1935 oil on paperboard on plywood 72.2 x 98.5 National Gallery of Australia
Roy de Maistre (1894-1968)
At the time when science and technology were driving European modernism, Roy de Maistre gave voice to a distinct cosmopolitan vision of the early milieu of Sydney moderns. From 1913 to c.1915 he studied painting under Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo (1870–1955) at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales whilst attending the Conservatorium in Sydney. In 1917, under the guidance of Dr Charles Gordon Moffat, he implemented H Kemp Prossor’s ideas on the affective potential of colour to treat shell-shocked soldiers. This experience deepened his interest in the psychological and therapeutic effects of colour on human physiology, propelling de Maistre to construct an original theory on the multi-sensory aesthetic experience of harmonious colour and sound. He formulated his understanding of the interrelation between colour and sound and their effects on the human mind, developing a theory that synthesised the colours of the spectrum to musical scales. In 1919, together with fellow artist Roland Wakelin, he staged the exhibition Colour in art, which comprised of a number of small paintings considered to be some of the first abstract work created by any Australian artist. Also exhibited were designs for coloured interiors, as well as a selection of de Maistre’s colour discs and keyboards that reveal his analytical vision and commitment to rhythmic structure. “Colour,” he said, “constitutes the very song of life… the spiritual speech of every living thing.” By giving our connectedness to the cosmos concrete form through the force of colour and its expression, painting was considered by de Maistre to evoke a search for spiritual meaning. As a young man he believed the musical analogy in painting would help guide the way to a non-objective art comparable to the essence of life. De Maistre evoked the utopian imagination through which he experienced the world and his place within it, distilling the desires of early Australian moderns with a radically original language of abstraction. Upon leaving to Europe in 1922, De Maistre near completely abandoned colour-music and abstraction, but not before he patented the De Masitre Colour Harmonising Chart that was later produced and marketed by the Sydney department store Grace Brothers.