ST JEAN DE LUZ, c.1925

Important Fine Art + Indigenous Art
18 April 2018


(1894 – 1968)
ST JEAN DE LUZ, c.1925

oil on canvas on composition board

32.0 x 39.0 cm

signed lower right with artist’s studio stamp

$40,000 – 60,000
Sold for $61,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 53 - 18 April 2018, Sydney

Probably: Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Melbourne


Possibly: Oil Paintings by Roy de Maistre, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 6 – 17 April 1926, cat. 27 (as ‘Waterfront, St Jean de Luz’)

Catalogue text

When Roy de Maistre was awarded the travelling scholarship offered by the Society of Artists in 1923, he was already recognised as one of Australia’s leading young modern artists. Four years previously, he had held the landmark exhibition Colour in Art with his colleague Roland Wakelin and the two subsequently spent time studying with the controversial Max Meldrum. Thus equipped, de Maistre headed first to London but, unimpressed by the gloomy weather, he travelled to France where he soon became entranced by the small Basque village of St Jean de Luz, already a popular location for British artists such as Sir John Lavery and Keith Baynes. De Maistre returned in 1925 and rented a studio for three months where he painted a series of paintings of the town and fishing port from many angles, including the work on offer here which focuses on the unusual shapes of machinery and boats haphazardly arranged on the waterfront.

The Colour in Art exhibition had likewise featured paintings of Sydney’s harbour with particular emphasis on the houses and boatsheds on the northern foreshore. Reduced to contrasting planes of pure colour, these scenes articulated de Maistre’s thoughts on the relationship between colour and music. Conversely, his studies under Meldrum followed that teacher’s theory of the ‘science of optical analysis’ through which painterly form was constructed solely from the depiction of tone, with edges being soft and almost unfocussed. In the St Jean de Luz paintings, de Maistre returned to his original ideas, albeit with less emphasis on high-key ‘musical’ colour, but informed by them nonetheless. In London in December 1923, he is thought likely to have seen an exhibition of twenty paintings by Vincent van Gogh, an artist whose work de Maistre would only have known previously from colour reproductions.1 St Jean de Luz, c.1925 features pronounced brush-strokes which bear a direct relation to the Dutchman’s own vigorous marks though de Maistre uses them in a controlled, less expressive manner to indicate volume and direction. It is a bold composition with the huge blue ship hull on the right and the gantry, depicted on a similarly dramatic angle, dominating the foreground view. The visual anchor thus becomes the white tower in the middle of the quay, with the purple mountains and smoke stack drawing the eye off into the distance.

On his return to Sydney, de Maistre held a one-man show at the Macquarie Galleries which had opened the previous year with an exhibition by his former colleague Wakelin. Here he presented 46 paintings, 38 of which had been painted overseas, including eleven scenes of St Jean de Luz. By comparing the dimensions of known works from this exhibition, it is plausible that the painting on offer here was originally titled Waterfront, St Jean de Luz.

1. Roland Wakelin was also in London at the time and records seeing the show.