Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938)
Born: February 22, 1860; Port Adelaide, Australia
Died: April 1, 1938; Pangbourne, England
Biography of Mortimer Menpes
A British painter and printmaker of Australian birth, Mortimer Menpes studied at the Adelaide School of Design with John Hood. In 1875, his family moved to London and he married. Three years later, he enrolled at the South Kensington School of Design, studying with Edward John Poynter.
In 1880, Menpes went on a sketching tour of Brittany and later that year met Whistler. He left art school to study informally with Whistler, learning much from him about composition and etching technique. He became Whistler’s chief studio assistant and avid artistic follower.
Menpes’ own reputation was soon established. He regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy, was elected to the Royal Society of Painters and Etchers in 1881 and became a member of the Society of British Artists in 1885.
Menpes later went to produce some of the most comprehensive body of etchings ever completed by a European in the East. Like his mentor, Menpes was influenced by the art of Japan, especially its wood block prints. In 1887, he began an extended journey to Japan. When he returned, his Japanese paintings formed the first of many successful one-man exhibitions; the exhibition was held at Dowdeswell, London. He later traveled to South Africa, where he made illustrations of the Boer War in 1900.
Menpes mainly painted landscapes and portraits. His early work is very much in the Whistler manner: open noctournal skies, seascapes and rustic urban scenes are the predominant features of his etchings. His later style was to become more linear and detailed. The break with Whistler came when his master accused him of plagiarism. This propelled Menpes to follow his own career as a travel artist, using the techniques that he had learned from his master. Much of his work covered the same subjects as Whistler, (the Themes, Chelsea, Brittany and Venice). However, his travels also took him further afield and the collection includes views of Mexico, the Middle East, India, Burma, China and Japan. He wrote Whistler As I Knew Him in 1904, and illustrated numerous books, including his own War Impressions (1901) and several travel books by his daughter, Dorothy Menpes.