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Art Gallery of South Australia searches for missing Mortimer Menpes paintings
Mortimer Menpes, Britain/Australia, A Venetian court, 1891/92, Venice or London, oil on wood panel, 11.5 x 8.8 cm; MJM Carter AO Collection, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

ADELAIDE.- The Art Gallery of South Australia is searching for paintings by Australian born and UK based artist, Mortimer Menpes (1855 – 1938) for a major exhibition and publication in 2014.

The exhibition will be the first museum retrospective of Menpes’s work and will shed new light on his artistic practice and accomplishments. Curator Julie Robinson, the Art Gallery’s Senior Curator, Prints, Drawings and Photographs, who has been has been researching Menpes’s works for over fifteen years, says that although the artist was prolific in his day it has been difficult to locate key examples of his work.

“Essentially each exhibition of his paintings was a huge success and quickly sold out to private collectors, making the paintings difficult to find today. Many may still be in the families of the original purchasers, but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“In particular we are searching for paintings created by the artist in the 1880s and 1890s. They often depict images from his far-ranging travels in Japan, India, Burma, Cashmere, Cairo, Mexico, France, Spain, Morocco and Venice. His paintings are usually small in scale and may still be in their distinctive artist-designed frames,” Ms Robinson said.

“The Art Gallery is also trying to trace two portraits of Menpes painted by his contemporary, Theodore Roussel. In one, Menpes is seated with a Japanese fan near his feet; in the other Menpes is a shadowy figure in a black cloak and top hat. These portraits made quite an impact when they were exhibited at the Society of British Artists exhibition in 1887,” she said.

Menpes was perhaps South Australia’s most successful artist internationally. He was born in Adelaide in 1855 and moved to London with his parents in 1875. There he established a career as an artist, creating exquisite paintings and prints, and became one of the most renowned artists in Britain in the late nineteenth century. From 1884 to 1888 he was closely associated withWhistler and was influenced by his aesthetic style. In 1887 Menpes travelled to Japan and the overwhelming success of his subsequent exhibition, led to the breakdown of his friendship and working relationship withWhistler.

The most productive and successful period of his career post-dates his time with Whistler – during the 1890s he held eight major solo exhibitions in London, resulting from his study trips to exotic places. During this period he also built and decorated his famous Japanese-style house in Cadogan Garden which became a hub for artistic soirées, and to which British society flocked to sit for their portraits. In Menpes’s career post-1900 his interest in paintings was replaced by a resurgence of printmaking, as seen in his key solo exhibitions in 1908 and 1913.

The exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia will include Menpes’s work in all media – paintings, prints, drawings and ceramics – and will be supported by archival photographs and material. Works of art located in this search will be exhibited alongside those already located in public and private collections in Australia, Britain, France and the United States.

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