Mortimer Luddington Menpes is having a bit of a renaissance in his home country. This year there were two exhibitions devoted to his work one in Adelaide, the city of his birth and one in Melbourne. We contributed some images to one of them, and they sent us a copy of the book of the exhibition, which is where most of this week’s pictures come from. My colleague Tim and I also got an invitation to the private view. But it was a bit far to go, which was a shame. It would have been good to see the place Menpes came from. He was born in Port Adelaide in 1855 and came to England when he was 20. Although he lived the greatest part of his life in the UK there was always something of the outsider about Mr Menpes and he never lost an Australian artist’s feeling for light and colour.
“Dolce far niente” is a portrait of Whistler’s mistress Maud Franklin wearing an oriental robe. Menpes was generally under Whistler’s influence in London. This picture, A little Shop in Chelsea is thought to be influenced by Whister’s view of Maunder’s fish shop in Cheyne Walk.
But Menpes annoyed his master in 1887 when he travelled to Japan. The influence of Japanese culture in Britain had been felt since the 1862 Exhibition in South Kensington but Whistler thought that Japan belonged to him, artistically speaking. Menpes went past the master to explore the source for himself. (He slipped away leaving a letter for Whistler and avoided a confrontation in person. This did not prevent Whistler later denouncing him)
He was able to visit the the elderly painter Kawanabe Kyosai, talk with him through an interpreter and observe him at work on a number of paintings. Menpes incorporated Japanese style and techniques into his own work. His pictures of Japan show this influence but at the same time he retains a Western sensibility, as in this picture of two women.
By the time of his exhibition of his Japanese pictures in London in 1888 Menpes was also a practioner of drypoint etching.
Later in life he concentrated on etching and print making.
This example is called Venice in Japan.
He employed a technique of sketching pictures quickly to capture scenes spontaneously which was useful for his travels. This picture, the Woman with a Jar, is an example of his ability to observe and record a moment of everyday life.
His travels later took him back to Japan but also further afield. This etching is a view in China.
This one is entitled “An old bridge in Mandalay”
He also ventured into India, another of the trips he turned into a travel book.
“Blue was the sky above us – Benares”
He also travelled to Mexico,and back in Europe visited Paris and Venice.
But there was also London, where he had built the Japanese House and where the river was one of the main subjectsof his work.
Below, “A distant view of the city”.
The riverside in the heart of London, at Limehouse.
Is that the Hawksmoor Church, St Anne’s visible on the horizon in this view?
Not forgetting his trips beyond the tidal Thames into the calmer countryside up river.
Compare this etching of Goring with the coloured illustration in his book The Thames which appears in this post. (5th picture, but you won’t have any trouble spotting it)
I haven’t touched on his portraits, but he also made himself a leading exponent of that art as well. This 1920 sketch “A woman with a cigarette” , a portrait of the actress Thelma Ray, the first wife of Ronald Colman, shows his continuing ability to catch a fleeting moment.
But for all his other work it’s probably as “Japanes Menpes” that Mr Menpes is best remembered.
The exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia has just finished, so you can’t go to it now, but here is a glimpse:
My thanks to Julie Robinson, the Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Gallery, for sending us a copy of the exhibition book/catalogue, “The World of Mortimer Menpes: Painter, Etcher, Raconteur”, a very useful adition to our Menpes collection. Now that Menpes is getting some of the attention he deserves I think we’ll hear a lot more about him. I haven’t finished with him on the blog either so you can expect to see more of his work here in the future.
If you are in Melbourne in the next few months you could try a different Menpes exhibition: http://www.grainger.unimelb.edu.au/exhibitions/ A review of it: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/voice/mortimer-menpes-and-grainger-a-shared-love-of-japan-20140807-3d9n4.html
I’m thinking of doing something way out of Kensington and Chelsea next week. We’ll see how that works out.