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Mortimer Menpes: Artist

Posted in Art, Artist on Saturday, 30 July 2011

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Mortimer Menpes was an Australian-born artist, author and illustrator.

picture, Mortimer Menpes, painter, illustrator, artist, fruit seller, Paris

A fruit seller in Paris, painted by Mortimer Menpes

Mortimer Luddington Menpes was born in Port Adelaide, South Australia, on 22 February 1855, the son of property developer James Menpes and his wife Ann, who had settled in Australia in 1839.

Educated at Adelaide Educational Institution, Menpes attended classes at the Adelaide School of Design, although his formal training on began in 1878 when he began attending the School of Art in London, his family having returned to England in 1875. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880 and would have 35 paintings and etchings shown there over the next two decades.

Menpes set off on a tour of Brittany in 1880 and met James McNeill Whistler, becoming his pupil and even sharing a flat with him at Cheyne Walk on the Embankment in London. Here he learned the art of etching. Menpes was to become one of the leading figures in the etching revival, producing more than 700 etchings and drypoints, which he usually printed himself.

A trip to Japan in 1887 also heavily influenced his style and he decorated his new house in Sloane Square in Japanese style; the house, designed by A. H. Mackmurdo in 1888, led to a falling out with Whistler who insisted that Menpes was copying his (Whistler’s) ideas.  Menpes sold the house in 1900 and moved his family to Kent.

In 1900, during the Boer War, Menpes worked as a war artist for Black and White during the Boer War, after which he travelled widely in Europe, Africa, Mexico and the Far East. Many of his illustrations were used in travel books by A. & C. Black, many of them penned by his daughter, Dorothy. His book The Durbar (1903) was a record of the commemoration of the coronation of King Edward VII. His other books included War Impressions (1901), Japan: A record in colour (1901), Whistler as I knew him (1904) and The People of India (1910).

Menpes retired to Pangbourne where he managed a business growing carnations and fruit, the company Menpes Fruit Farms existing until 1952. Menpes himself died in Pangbourne on 1 April 1938, eighteen months after the death of his wife, Rosa Mary Grosse, whom he married in 1875. They had three children, a son and two daughters.

Many more pictures by Mortimer Menpes can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

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