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Mortimer L. Menpes

1855 - 1938

Portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler: Night Study by Mortimer L. Menpes

Portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler: Night Study   c.1886

  Original drypoint.
Signed in pencil.
S 315 x 246 mm; P & I 200 x 150 mm.
Superb impression of this rare portrait of Whistler by his friend and admirer, Mortimer Menpes. Outstanding signed proof impression, printed by Menpes himself on specially prepared Chine appliqué surfaced paper. This particular drypoint is amongst the most scarce of Menpes’s Whistler portrait plates.

The famous portraits of J.A.McN.Whistler by his ardent admirer Mortimer Menpes are, without doubt, the most perceptive studies of the great Master of etching. They possess a natural familiarity and an extraordinary vitality which could only have been captured by a close friend and fellow artist of great dexterity. Menpes has captured Whistler’s flamboyant character to perfection, displaying his highly individual Bohemian nature whilst portraying perfectly both his arrogance and humour. This dark and moody study depicts the proud self-satisfaction of Whistler, an outspoken character who courted controversy throughout his life, the haughty stance betraying the confident genius of a man who is used to veneration.

Already acclaimed for his drypoint portraits, Menpes first met Whistler in November 1880 at the Fine Art Society. Menpes recalled this meeting: “the moment I saw him I realised I had come into contact with the Master” and soon afterwards offered his printing room to Whistler, noting “here it was that Whistler taught me the art of etching”. Years later, Whistler wrote to Menpes confirming this but in a very different, although characteristic manner: “I have educated and trained you… You are but the medium translating the ideas of the Master.”

Despite their very different natures, Whistler and Menpes developed a close friendship, often travelling together on artistic expeditions. During the winter of 1881 they worked together on the printing of Whistler’s first Venice Set and from this time on Menpes became accepted as part of Whistler’s artistic milieu. However, Menpes began to break away from Whistler’s style during his first trip to Japan in 1887 and, upon his return, was applauded in his own right for the exhibition which resulted. Whistler, ever resentful of such success, immediately abandoned Menpes, taking his followers with him.

It is thought likely that most of Menpes’s flattering portraits of Whistler were executed whilst the two artists were still close friends. However, some of the most highly finished of these works were developed from earlier etchings, drypoints and sketches soon after Whistler’s death. They remain both the most highly-prized of all of Menpes’s prints and the most sought after portraits of his great mentor, Whistler. The manner of this particular study has led to the conclusion that this drypoint was almost undoubtedly drawn from life.

Only one impression of this portrait was available in the Menpes Collection sale in 1995. No other impression of this work is recorded to have been offered for sale since that date.

On Chine appliqué on original thick cream wove support paper with full margins and deckle edges. Very fine original condition.