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Bringing to light two influential South Australian artists: Mortimer Menpes and Dorrit Black
Mortimer Menpes, Britain/Australia, 1855–1938, Reading, c.1898–99, London, drypoint, printed in coloured inks on paper, 21.8 x 26.4 cm (plate), Private collection, England.
ADELAIDE.- Staged side by side, The World of Mortimer Menpes: painter, etcher, raconteur and Dorrit Black: unseen forces reveal the pioneering role that each artist played, albeit in different circles and at different times. These two retrospectives, running from Saturday 14 June to Sunday 7 September 2014, will celebrate the life work of two influential, Adelaide-born artists.

Mortimer Menpes and Dorrit Black were both painters and printmakers who shared a common desire to travel the world to develop their careers in art. Although a generation apart they both shared a love of recording the ordinary and natural world.

Menpes (1855–1938) was South Australia’s first artist to have a successful international career. He was born in Port Adelaide and moved to London with his parents in 1875. For a time he was closely associated with James McNeill Whistler and his Aesthetic style. In 1887 he travelled to Japan and his subsequent exhibition was an overwhelming success. During the 1890s he held eight major solo exhibitions in London resulting from diverse overseas trips. His famous Japanese-style house in London’s Cadogan Gardens provided the perfect setting for his foray into portraiture and became a hub for artistic soirées – where writers, artists, politicians, high society and the leading lights In the theatre world, mingled.

Menpes never returned to Australia, although many of his works have. The World of Mortimer Menpes: painter, etcher, raconteur, curated by Julie Robinson, will include paintings, prints, drawings and ceramics, assembled from public and private collections in Australia and overseas.

Black (1891–1951) returned to Australia from her European travels in 1929 and brought with her the revolutionary movement of cubism. She established the ground-breaking Modern Art Centre in Sydney in 1931, and her teaching and practice inspired a wave of young artists, including Jeffrey Smart who described her permanent return to Adelaide in 1934 ‘like a shot of adrenaline’. While living in Adelaide she produced some of Australia’s greatest landscapes of the mid-twentieth century.

Curated by Tracey Lock-Weir, Dorrit Black: unseen forces will include all aspects of Black’s work–oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, textiles and her dynamic linocut prints. It will highlight her as one of Australia’s foremost modernist artists and teachers, who significantly contributed to the acceptance of modernism in Australia.

The exhibition is on view at the Art Gallery of South Australia until 7 September, 2014.

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Bringing to light two influential South Australian artists: Mortimer Menpes and Dorrit Black

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