Beach at St Jean de Luz, 1924 signed and dated 'R de Maistre 1924' lower right oil on canvas 52.0 x 63.5cm (20 1/2 x 25in).
PROVENANCE possibly Collection of Mrs Rodney Dangar, Sydney The Charles Lloyd Jones Collection, Sydney The Charles Lloyd Jones Collection, Sotheby's, Sydney, 19 July 1992, lot 23 Private collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED Oil Paintings by R. de Mestre, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 6 - 17 April 1926, cat. 24 as On the Beach, St. Jean de Luz Loan Exhibition of Roy de Maistre Paintings, Industrial Art Society's Rooms, Victoria Arcade, Castlereagh Street, Sydney, 21 April - 5 May, 1937, cat. 14, as Beach Scene, St. Jean de Luz
LITERATURE Mr de Mestre's Paintings, Art Exhibition, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 1926, p. 12 Roy de Maistre's Pictures, Art Exhibition, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1937, p. 8 Art and Australia, vol. 9, no. 2, 1971, pp. 120, 121 (illus.)
A sleepy fishing village in the winter months, the Basque seaside town of St-Jean-de-Luz in South West France transforms into a fashionable and crowded holiday resort in the summer. One of the village's most alluring qualities is its natural harbour and protected beaches lined with characteristic terracotta roofed buildings. Australian expatriate artist Roy de Maistre first visited St-Jean-de-Luz in 1923 following his controversial win of the New South Wales Society of Artists Travelling Scholarship earlier that year. He initially arrived in London but disenchanted with the capital, travelled to Paris and then on to St-Jean-de-Luz to stay with his cousin, Camilla Keogh, who had retired to the village in 1922 with her husband, Lieutenant General Sir Alfred Keogh.
De Maistre was immediately drawn to the region and painted a number of views of the Basque town and indeed, numerous important portraits of Camilla. In 1925 he took a studio there for three months and when he finally returned to Sydney at the end of the Scholarship he presented to the scholarship committee an oil painting depicting his beloved seaside town entitled Boat Harbour, 1925 (The Howard Hinton Collection, New England Regional Art Museum) as a summation of his progress throughout his three-year sojourn abroad.
Beach at St-Jean-de-Luz, painted in 1924, is a complex and masterful composition focused on a charming family group playing in the sand under the soft filtered light of a glowing beach tent. To the left an elegant woman sits reading beneath her parasol while a small child rakes at the sand. Beyond her sits another woman shaded by a striped rose-coloured tent. De Maistre cleverly creates a sense of drama by bathing the entire lower right corner in grey blue shadow out of which an elderly robed man emerges offering a dry towel to a person beyond the frame of the picture. The effect of this dramatic shadowed foreground is to set up a clear corridor of light through the centre of the scene into the distant tents beyond. Indeed, it is the only open space in an otherwise teeming composition.
Without doubt, de Maistre was applying his significant researches into colour music theory, which he commenced when he first studied viola at the Conservatorium in Sydney culminating in his ground-breaking exhibition with Roland Wakelin in 1919, Colour in Art. The year this work was painted the artist had patented the De Mestre Colour Harmonising Chart, which was in essence a colour wheel of 132 shades divided into twelve segments allowing its users to ascertain the most harmonious colour combinations. Largely applied in design circles, the wheel was marketed and sold through Grace Bros. Sydney. In Beach at St-Jean-de-Luz we can observe clear evidence of the artist putting his theory into practice with his interlocking passages of blues, reds and yellows all softened under the warm Basque light.
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