Roy de Maistre

Australia, England 1894–1968
De Maistre was a key proponent of modernism in Australian art. Born in Bowral, NSW, he studied music at Sydney’s Conservatorium before studying painting. His theory of colour harmonisation was based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale. With Conservatorium colleague Adrien Verbrugghen, he established a mechanical scheme for translating melodies into colour. With fellow artist Roland Wakelin, he developed these ideas, producing colour keyboards and colour wheels in which individual colour tones were linked with particular musical notes to derive harmonising colours from harmonising sounds. The two artists also created a series of ‘colour music’ works, which they first exhibited in 1919.

De Maistre moved permanently to England in 1930.

Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor 1919

This is one of Australia’s first abstract paintings, although it seems not to have been exhibited until years after it was produced. It’s a fine example of de Maistre’s interest in colour theory and his experiments in linking colour and music, with tonal variations producing rhythms and harmonies through complex compositions and abstract forms. Compared to the conservatism of most Australian art of the time, those forms and the areas of flat paint were an innovation.

The painting is also connected to de Maistre’s search for spiritual meaning: ‘colour,’ he said, ‘constitutes the very song of life… the spiritual speech of every living thing.’

Related material

The Gallery’s collection includes several items produced by De Maistre that relate to his explorations with colour.