Large private Roy de Maistre collection to go under the hammer

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 16th August, 2019

One of Australia’s largest private collections of Roy de Maistre paintings will be offered for auction from 7pm Wednesday August 28 by Deutscher and Hackett at Sydney’s Cell Block Theatre, National Art School in Forbes Street, Darlinghurst.

Part of Glen Iris couple the late Ken and Joan Plomley collection of modernist art and comprising the first 36 lots in the auction, the paintings were assembled largely because of the former’s close connection with the de Mestre family through his great-uncle Etienne de Mestre, Roy’s father.

A famous horse trainer, in the first 18 years of the Melbourne Cup Etienne won the international classic five times – training the first winner Archer (1861-62) and then Tim Whiffler (1867), Chester (1877) and Calamia (1878).

De Maistre (born Leroy Livingstone de Mestre in 1894 in Bowral New South Wales but who as an adult changed his name to the more modern spelling Roy de Maistre believing it better suited a modern painter) is recognised as the first Australian artist to use pure abstraction techniques.

He trained in Australia but in March 1930 left the country to live permanently in London.

Even though he was born much later (1916), Ken’s close links with de Maistre began when at age 10 he lived for a year with Etienne’s widow (great-aunt) Clara and Roy’s sister Biddy at Moss Vale rural village in the NSW southern highlands.

From there, he developed an interest in early Australian life and, aged 14, purchased his first work, a print of colonial Sydney.

Even though his lifelong work was concerned with agriculture, art became one of Ken’s great passions.

Studying the agricultural methods used by early Australian settlers, in 1938 he completed a Bachelor of Science (Agriculture) at Sydney University and, when World War II broke out, joined the Navy working on the huge task of providing naval personnel with enough food, drink and supplies to keep them fighting fit – no matter where they were.

Because of his close association with the de Mestres, Ken was in the perfect position to collect Roy’s works.

The Meeting in the Garden c 1929 (lot 2) is one of the more valuable paintings in the collection.

It has a catalogue estimate of $150,000-$200,000 and records the ground-breaking Burdekin House Exhibition of that same year.

Another work of note is Figure with Guitar c 1932-35 (lot 3), estimate (100,000-$150,000), while Gerberas 1926 (lot 1) is listed at $80,000-$120,000.

One of Ken’s talented staff while working during World War II at Melbourne’s Naval Victualling Laboratory was a girl called Joan, who helped him develop food survival packages for crews whose vessels had been sunk.

After the war, he joined the CSIRO’s Division of Forest Products in South Melbourne and three months later he and Joan were married – a union that was to last 66 years until he died in 2012.

Joan was a great supporter of Ken’s art interest and no doubt influenced his decision to buy Arnold Shore’s works because as a child she and the artist used to stay at the same Mount Macedon guest house.

Other major influences were Joan McClelland from Joshua McClelland Print Room and well known Australian art connoisseur the late Dr Joseph Brown much of whose collection is now exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Although works by de Maistre were a major part of the collection, Ken also collected many other famous artists, including Margaret Preston’s (1875-1963) Indoor Still Life 1913 (lot 9) with a catalogue estimate of $150,000-$200,000 and several of her prints and woodcuts.

Works from London’s Grosvenor School also are in the collection including two prints by teacher Claude Flight as well as key prints from students Dorrit Black, Ethel Spowers and Evelyn Syme.

One of the prints is one of Flight’s best known – Speed c 1922 (lot 15 – estimate $25,000-$35,000), while the other is Descent from the Bus c 1927 (lot 21).

The auction also contains a wealth of other works including Howard Arkley’s Floriated Address 1995 (lot 48) with a $600,000-$800,000 catalogue estimate.


Viewing Melbourne: 11am-6pm Friday August 16 to Sunday August 18

                                    105 Commercial Road, South Yarra


Viewing Sydney: 11am-6pm Thursday August 22 to Wednesday August 28         

                             16 Goodhope Street, Paddington

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