(Enlarged Photo)

Mortimer Menpes RSA (1855-1938), Breton Baby'

watercolour (16 x 20cm)

Mortimer Luddington Menpes was born in Port Adelaide, Australia in 1855 but came to London with his family in 1875. He was determined to become an artist and enrolled at the South Kensington School of Design, where he studied under Sir Edward Poynter.

In 1880, Menpes made a sketching tour of Brittany, then a magnet for post- impressionists like Gauguin, Bonnard and Vuillard. 1880 was also the year the young would-be artist met the man who would become the biggest influence on his career, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, twenty years Menpes’ senior. Menpes was so bowled over by the flamboyant, controversial American (fresh from his infamous ‘pot of paint’ libel trial with Ruskin) that he left college to become Whistler’s studio assistant and, for a time, his most devoted follower.

Brittany’s peasant simplicity made a lasting impression on Menpes, who later published a book of his impressions of the area. This beautifully produced book was very much a family affair, with words by his wife, Dorothy and printed by his daughter Maud on their family press. The sleeping baby in our watercolour is typical of Menpes’ work of this period.

Menpes later became famous for his impressions of the Far East and Japan, where he produced a large volume of work, including watercolours and etchings.


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