Roy DE MAISTRE, Self-portrait Enlarge 1 /1


Bowral, New South Wales, Australia 1894 – London, England 1968

  • England, France 1923-26
  • England, France from 1929

Self-portrait c.1945 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Dimensions: 71.0 h x 56.0 w cm framed (overall) 845 h x 686 w x 60 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1975
Accession No: NGA 75.159
Image rights: © Caroline de Mestre Walker

Self-portrait c 1945, with its strong interlacing lines, illustrates the influence of Cubism on Roy de Maistre’s work. Set in the intimate environment of his studio, we see only a reflection of the artist’s head and shoulders above a roaring, well-stoked fire, a shelf packed with books and a glimpse of stairs leading upwards. The artist’s world appears private and contained.

The surface pattern of the painting is similarly contained; constructed and arranged with a reduced palette and active but irregular shapes. The artist however appears comfortable, the hand gesture perhaps suggesting a moment captured mid-sentence in a lively discussion.

In London, de Maistre established a wide circle of friends including critics, poets, politicians and musicians. Patrick White and Francis Bacon became close friends. On their meeting in the summer of 1935, White reflected that de Maistre ‘was a snob, and an artist of integrity, a Modern who affected Edwardian manners, a homosexual of extreme discretion, and a melancholy man of great charm’.[1]

Self-portrait embodies this discretion: de Maistre frames his reflection as he does his life, inviting the viewer’s gaze on his own terms and at a distance. The fire, too, has clear boundaries and yet indicates a passionate creative spirit. The artist fuels the fire and fire fuels the artist; the triangular black hood connects with his collar and shirt and the artist’s hand almost catches the tips of the flames.

Roy de Maistre was a pioneer in Australian Post-Impressionism and Cubism. When he died, on his request, his notes and letters were destroyed and only his paintings and the memories of family and friends remain as an insight into the man and the artist.[2]

De Maistre studied at the Royal Art Society of NSW and Julian Ashton’s Art School. Interested in the relationship between painting, music and colour, he first exhibited with Roland Wakelin and Grace Cossington Smith in Sydney in 1916 and again with Wakelin in 1919, showing some of the first abstract paintings seen in Australia.[3] During the 1920s he travelled to England and France, leaving Australia permanently for London in 1929.

Georgia Connolly

[1] D Marr, Patrick  White: a life, Random House Australia, Sydney, 1991, p 149.

[2] H Johnson, Roy de Maistre: the English years 1930–1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, in association with G+B Arts International, 1995, p 9.

[3] D Thomas, ‘de Maistre, LeRoy Leveson Laurent Joseph (Roy) (1894–1968)’, Australian dictionary of biography, vol 8, 1981, pp 277–8.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010