Mortimer Menpes (1855-1938)

The Street Vendor, $30,000-40,000

The two works by Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1855-1938) The Street Vendor (lot 5) and The Artist's Child (Lot 4) represent enduring themes in the artist's output; the adventurous, intrepid traveller with a fascination for the exotic; and the domestic family man delighting in the ways of his small offspring.

Born in Port Adelaide, Menpes moved to London with his family in his early 20s where he studied at The School of Art. During an artist's trip to Brittany in 1880 he met the American artist, James McNeill Whistler who became his trusted teacher and friend. Menpes was strongly influenced by Whistler's techniques and observational style, the pervasive sway of Aestheticism within the arts at the time, particularly the flourishing interest in Japonisme. Japan had recently opened to the West and the emporium, Liberty of London, previously known as East India house, was instrumental in exposing consumers, including Whistler and his milieu, to the visual arts and aesthetics of that mysterious country.

In the 1880s Menpes travelled to Japan and over the ensuing years he travelled widely, to south Asia, India, Burma, Kashmir, Cairo and the Mediterranean – France, Spain, Italy, Venice, and Morocco. His travels also took him as far as Mexico. These adventures infused much of his art practice and his resultant one-man London exhibitions were critically acclaimed and commercially successful. The love of the orient extended to Mortimer's life in London, where he lived with his wife and children. Something of an exotic creature himself, he frequently dressed in kimono and entertained in his Japanese inspired and decorated Cadogan Gardens town house.

MORTIMER MENPES (1855-1938) The Artist's Child, $10,000 - A$15,000

Renowned for his versatility and command across various mediums: drawing, painting, print making – he was part of the late 19th century revival of etching, due in part to the influence of Whistler, and as an illustrator for coloured books.

The Artist's Child exhibits Menpes' facility and gift for capturing the fleeting moment. Rendered in spirited charcoal underdrawing with water colour and gouache highlights, it is not posed but, instead, a delightful study in immediacy. His young subject has broken into a chuckle, her hand seemingly in motion. Mortimer did many studies of his children, mostly etchings and drypoints, recording their antics and infantile ways - a bawling child, a child taunting a cat, a coy playful pose.

In contrast The Street Vendor, late 1880s to early 90s is a small, quiet, observational study of an eastern market scene. Set almost at a respectful distance seemingly to avoid observation by his subjects, we watch as Menpes' figures go about the much practised and unhurried ritual of preparing dishes on enormous trays. There is an impressionistic quality to the paintwork, and an overall earthiness to the palette enlivened by a muted blue cloth and small but startling flashes of red.

Significantly, the work is housed in the original frame, one of the vertical fluted panel frames ordered by Menpes from Japan. Menpes was much taken by Japanese craft techniques during his travels and ordered 200 frames be made and sent to London where they were gilded.

The framing choice is an integral part of the presentation of his subject. Indeed, reviews of Menpes' London exhibitions observe the importance of his framing. This is well articulated in The Street Vendor, where Eastern subject matter set within a Japanese frame forms a pleasing balanced whole.

Part of the Jackie and Hugh Wallace collection, these works were acquired by the pair during the 1970s. These fine studies by the remarkable, spirited and versatile Mortimer Menpes are now presented to the market for the first time in nearly 50 years.


View the full catalogue.

View the Jackie & Hugh Wallace Collection.