Berrima, 1918 signed and dated 'R. de Maistre. 1918' lower left oil on board 25.0 x 35.0cm (9 13/16 x 13 3/4in).
PROVENANCE The Collection of Mrs Neville Dangar Thence by descent Private collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED Loan Exhibition of Roy de Maistre Paintings, Industrial Art Society's Rooms, Victoria Arcade, Castlereagh Street, 21 April - 5 May, 1937, cat. 2
RELATED WORK Barns at Berrima, 1918, oil on board, Private collection, exhibited in Sydney Moderns: Art for a New World, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 6 July - 7 October 2013
Roy de Maistre stands at the forefront of abstraction in Australian art. His Colour in Art exhibition of 1919, with Roland Wakelin, was the first unambiguous display of modernity in Australian art.1 Trained under Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, alongside a bevy of important Australian modernists, de Maistre would go on to be named by Grace Cossington Smith as a founder of Australian contemporary painting, together with close friend Roland Wakelin.2
Trained in classical violin, de Maistre drew inspiration from the formal rules of the Western musical canon, idiosyncratically combined with an interest in the effects of colour on mental states. After a time in military service, de Maistre experimented in the treatment of shellshock patients through interior design. Following his redesign in primrose yellow and lilac, patients at the "Russell Lea" rehabilitation centre reported sleeping more soundly.3
Berrima, 1918, is typical of de Maistre's works during this period; a gentle exploration of landscape provides the structure for his use of colour. Here representational colour is subservient to de Maistre's music-inspired theories of key, tone and harmony. Berrima echoes with de Maistre's interest in Fauvism, as the "barns" turn alternately orange, purple, and blue. He creates almost no illusory depth, instead buildings clutter in a semi-circle, flatly stacked as if we were inside Paul Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, c.1890. This flatness acts to reinforce the primacy of colour, each object represented becomes a canvas for another geometric block of pigment. Similarly, there is little shading or blending, hue and tone are placed abruptly together, offering a kaleidoscopic view of the landscape.
Berrima draws on diverse influences from music, medicine and European avant-garde artists, infused with de Maistre's visionary exploration of the conditions and effects of representation. During the Colour in Art exhibition, de Maistre gave the lecture 'Colour in relation to Painting', an extract of which was published in the accompanying catalogue. There he notes, 'What is colour? Many accept it unquestioningly a few, I believe, are almost unconscious of its presence for others it constitutes an aesthetic pleasure or an interesting scientific phenomenon the result of light vibrations acting upon their optic nerves. But there are many for whom Colour means far more than this to them it brings the conscious realisation of the deepest underlying principles of nature, and in it they find deep and lasting happiness for those people it constitutes the very song of life and is, as it were, the spiritual speech of every living thing.'4
1 Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller, Degenerates and Perverts: 1939 Herald Exhibition of French and British Contemporary Art, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2005 2 Ann Stephen, Andrew McNamara and Philip Goad, Modernism & Australia. Documents on Art, Design and Architecture 1917 - 1967, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2006 3 "Color Cure Hospital Camouflage Treatment for Shell Shock" Sun, 10 March 1919
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