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Roy de Maistre shapes up

Roy de Maistre Court lady and seascape early 1930s (detail) © Caroline de Mestre Walker

Several Roy de Maistre artworks were in poor shape due to inappropriate storage and remedial treatment before the Gallery acquired them. A recent conservation project has remedied much of the damage, allowing them to be displayed again at the time of our Sydney moderns exhibition.

The paintings – six panels in total – were designed in the 1930s as a commission of mural panels for the London apartment of Lady and Sir Dudley de Chair, Governor of NSW from 1923 to 1930. During her years in Australia, Lady de Chair became a supporter of a number of modernist artists in Sydney and an unofficial patron of de Maistre, whom she got to know because her summer house was close to his family’s home in Moss Vale, south of Sydney.

The paintings were bought by the Art Gallery of NSW in 1992 with funds provided by our members organisation, the Art Gallery Society of NSW. This year the Society funded the conservation of four of the panels as part of its 60th anniversary celebrations.

Sometime after de Chair’s room decoration was completed, the paintings were removed from the wall and rolled for storage. Probably during storage, they developed creases and paint losses. At some point before the Gallery acquired them, they underwent a restoration treatment, which set the creases permanently in place. Attempts were also made to reintegrate areas of paint and canvas loss by inserting painted patches in some of the larger areas and by retouching smaller losses, but the results were clumsy.

Our recent conservation approach was to treat the overall work less like an easel painting and more like a mural (strictly speaking a work painted directly onto the surface of an internal or external wall). We also wanted to respect the idea that these works had been domestic furnishings which had a history.

The aim wasn’t to fully reintegrate the paint and canvas losses and creases, but to improve the overall appearance of the works, so that – although visible – the damage was no longer as intrusive.

In their new frames, the presentation is more like Japanese screens which link together, than individual artworks each separate from the other.

The four recently conserved and reframed works can be seen in the Gallery’s members lounge at the same time as the exhibition Sydney moderns: art for a new world, which features more of de Maistre’s work and which the Society is also sponsoring as part of their 60th anniversary celebrations.

	Before treatment

	In raking light, it is easy to see the creases that developed when the work was rolled for storage.
  • 	Before treatment

	In raking light, it is easy to see the creases that developed when the work was rolled for storage.
  • 	Before treatment

	One of the clumsy attempts to retouch paint loss. The non-original paint on the right is clearly mismatched to the original paint on the left.
  • 	Before treatment

	The inserted painted patches are clearly visible, with a large patch on the right side of the image and smaller patches elsewhere. The paint is poorly matched and the joins are obvious.
  • 	Before treatment

	The silver-coloured background is original and was made from flakes of aluminium suspended in paint medium. The damage to this area is clear, as are the obvious joins of the poorly matched insets, which are a creamier colour.
  • 	Before treatment

	The bright green and reddish brown on the trunks are mismatched overpaint applied to disguise damage. This has now been retouched to better colour match with the original.
  • 	After treatment

	Moon Gate Garden
  • 	After treatment

	Court lady and seascape
  • 	After treatment

	Magnolias and path
  • 	After treatment

	Part of a work titled House and fisherman, woodland and deer, lake, although only this panel of the triptych is on display.
  • 	After treatment

	The reframed works on display in the Gallery’s members lounge.

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July 03 2013, 9am
by Andrea Nottage
Painting conservator