Roy de Maistre – painter, Australian

His name sounds French, but he was Australian. He studied art and music at the same time, and from this, worked out a way to link musical scale to colour. Then converted to Roman Catholic and painted many pictures based on his faith and the Bible.


I like this still-life in the Tate, for its vibrancy of colour and shape. I particularly like the electric fan – it’s got that sense of movement, through lines, which the Italian Futurists delighted in. I don’t so much like the back of the picture, because it has two windows and is a bit too symmetrical. But that is a small point. The rest works, for me. You have to view it online, as it is not on display at the Tate. Apparently he did a series of Easter paintings, stations of the cross, for Westminster Cathedral. There are a couple of books on him by the writer Heather Johnson, but these are around £100 each, even secondhand, making it hard to get to see his works.

There are many more examples of his work, and across his lifetime, in Australia, at the art gallery of New South Wales:


In particular, I like his “Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor”, which happens to be the 2nd picture they have, in date order. This is because it is dated 1919. Astounding that after the Great War, this picture of light and hope and beauty ripples out.


In complete contrast, I appreciate the sensitivity of his pictures of the Crucifixion and Christ being taken down from the cross. These are cubist in style, which suits the sharp horror of the pain. (They remind me of one of the most touching pictures I ever saw of the crucifixion, an Irish cubist picture by Mainie Jellett – at the Irish Cubism exhibition in Dublin. I think it is called the Ninth Hour and is viewable at the Hugh Lane Gallery.)

The Australian Dictionary of Biography adds further details  to the story of Roy de Maistre – he wasn’t well enough to take part in active service in WW1, but took part in experiments in treating shell-shocked soldiers through putting them in rooms of certain colour combinations which were regarded as calming. (Interesting – colour as therapy).


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