To Roy de Maistre belongs the distinction of producing Australia’s first abstract paintings. Between 1918 to 1919, in collaboration with Roland Wakelin, de Maistre made experimental studies of the relationships between colour and music. Working with musician Adrian Verbrugghen he developed a colour-music scale where the spectrum of colours related to notes of the major and minor musical scales. This colour-music theory was further underscored by de Maistre’s interest in the psychological effects of colour and its relationship to the expression of emotional states. In 1919 de Maistre and Wakelin staged the Colour in Art exhibition, a sensational event within the small and conservative Sydney art world. While no completely abstract works were included, their small landscape panels were characterized by flattened perspectives and non-representational colour. The cool reception to this exhibition led both artists to shortly after adopt a more acceptable post-impressionist manner. However, in the early 1930s and living in London, de Maistre briefly reprised his interest in abstraction and colour music in a series of paintings including this work which is inscribed by the artist ‘1920–34’. It is likely that de Maistre’s exposure to abstract and modern painting in London was the impetus for his returning to his earlier avant-garde experimentation. The 1930s were the heyday of non-objective art in Europe and de Maistre’s abstract paintings stand alongside the contemporary developments in geometric art at this time.

Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia


  • Title: A painted picture of the Universe
  • Creator: Roy de Maistre
  • Date Created: 1920-1934
  • Location Created: "Sydney; London", "Australia; England"
  • Physical Dimensions: 50.6 x 40.4 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1976, =A9 National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil and pencil on composition board
  • Provenance: Gift of the artist to John Weyman, 1934; included in the sale of Modern British Drawings, Paintings and Sculpture, Sotheby's London, 12 November 1975, no. 304 as The Universe; from where purchased for Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne; there exhibited Autumn Exhibition Recent Acquisitions, 1976; from where purchased for the National Gallery of Victoria, 1976.
  • Place Part Of: "Australia; England"

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