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Leroy (Roy) Leveson Laurent de MAISTRE (b.1894; d.1968)

The Australian artist LeRoy Leveson Laurent Joseph (Roy) de Maistre was born LeRoi Levistan de Mestre in Bowral, New South Wales, on 27 March 1894.  He had a privileged upbringing and was educated at home by governesses and tutors until he left at age 19 to study music at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music and painting at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.  He also studied at Julian Ashton’s Sydney Art School.

As a 22 year old De Maistre tried to enlist for service in the First World War but was unsuccessful due to a health condition.  He was accepted instead for home service and was discharged the following year, 1917, with general debility.  At this time he became interested in the treatment of shell-shock patients by putting them in rooms painted in soothing colour combinations.

As Roi de Mestre he first exhibited his work in November 1917.  Flowing from his interest in the relationship between painting, music and colour this exhibition comprised the effects of light on Impressionist interiors and landscapes.  The works received critical acclaim, but his modernist developments were largely derided by the conservative establishment.

A year later de Maistre collaborated with fellow artist Roland Wakelin to explore the relationship between art and music and developed his ideas to produce colour keyboards and colour wheels in which individual colour tones were linked with particular musical notes to derive harmonising colours from harmonising sounds.  Their experiments produced Australia's first abstract paintings, characterised by high-key colour, large areas of flat paint and simplified forms.  His theory of colour harmonisation was based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale.  With his Conservatorium colleague, Adrien Verbrugghen, he established a mechanical scheme for translating melodies into colour.  This exemplified de Maistre's theory of colour harmonisation and it also aligned with his search for spiritual meaning through abstraction.

De Maistre’s 1919 ‘Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor’ is one of the first of his abstract paintings but was not exhibited until some years later.  It exemplifies his innovation in linking colour and music, with tonal variations to produce rhythms and harmonies through complex compositions and abstract forms.  This work also relates to de Maistre’s interest in spiritual meaning.  “Colour”, he said, “constitutes the very song of life…the spiritual speech of every living thing.”

De Maistre’s work of 1921-22 changed to experimentation applying Max Meldrum’s opposite theory of impersonal, unemotional tones and in 1923 he received a scholarship from the Sydney Society of Artists that enabled him to spend three years abroad in London, Paris and St Jean de Luz.  On his return to Sydney he held exhibitions in 1926 and 1928, joined exhibitions with others such as George Lambert and Thea Proctor, taught modern art and in, 1929, organised the Burdekin House Exhibition of interior design.

In 1929 De Maistre left Australia for good to become a permanent resident of England.  This is when he changed the spelling of his name and added the additional ‘Laurent’.  From this time he was considered to be a British artist and held shows at the Beaux Arts Gallery, Francis Bacon’s studio, Mayor Gallery and Calmann Gallery in London and the Bernheim Jeune Gallery in Paris.  His work was featured in Art Now and he established a painting school with Martin Block.

From the 1930s de Maistre’s paintings are Cubist in style and a perfect way of expressing his ideas on the interrelationships of ancestry, family and friendship.  He exhibited with the Royal Academy of Arts from 1951 and was represented in Arts Council of Great Britain exhibitions.  His work was bought for the Tate Gallery and other art museums.  His later modernist religious works were hung in public collections and he had commissions for Westminster Cathedral.  Some of his finest works were considered to be those of the interior of his home and studio that were painted later in life.

De Maistre died on1 March 1968.  He is remembered as an Australian artist of international fame who was a key proponent of modernism in Australian Art.  The Art Gallery of New South Wales has a large collection of de Maistre’s paintings, many of which were donated in 1974 by his friend, Patrick White.


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