Mortimer – a friend of Oscar’s.

Some time back I blogged about a small collection of artworks I have accumulated relating to Oscar Wilde – – and which hang in the library here.

Today the collection was joined by a Mortimer Menpes etching of Cairo acquired – again locally – some years back but which first had to under go a clean and has only today returned from the framers  – installed in a nice old black lacquer frame of some age.

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Menpes (1885-1938) was an Australian born artist who went to London where he became a student and close friend and assistant of Whistler’s. Menpes was an excellent etcher and his views of Venice are stunning and accordingly famous in etching circles.

However he and the American painter fell out (most people did with Whistler) after Menpes decided to travel to Japan and see Japanese art firsthand – something Whistler had essentially forbidden him to do. When he returned he had a large and successful exhibition but refused Whistler insistence that he sign his work – ‘pupil of Whistler.’

Another version of the falling out (favored by Wikipedia) is that ‘Whistler and Menpes quarreled over the interior design of Menpes new house, which Whistler felt was a brazen copying of his own ideas – nice vision two straight men falling out over décor.

I’ve always liked the Menpes works encountered in Australian galleries and so when this turned up in Napier I nabbed it. A second nice discovery was to find a Menpes oil in the collection of Andrew McIntosh Patrick a collector and decorator of consummately infallible taste whom I admire immensely (note to self: a Andrew McIntosh Patrick posting is required).

It wasn’t until later that I discovered that Wilde and Menpes were friends and that the Australian was godfather to Oscar’s second son Vyvyan.  Vyvyan later wrote ‘I still possess some of his etchings which he bestowed upon me in lieu of a christening mug’ sadly (the ungrateful wretch) continued ‘the etchings are not very good.’

Having seen many Victorian christening mugs – I think Vyvyan did rather well.






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