Mortimer Menpes (1855-1938) was a painter and printmaker who found fame in his lifetime for his depictions of South Asia, China and Japan. Born in Adelaide, Australia, Menpes moved to London in 1874, where he became an assistant to James Abbott McNeill Whistler (‘the master’ as Menpes referred to him).
To focus on his own work, Menpes travelled to Japan in 1887. On his return he exhibited his paintings and prints of the journey to great acclaim. Menpes travelled to India (including present day Pakistan) and Burma in the 1890s, and 1902 to 1903 when he was an artist at the Delhi Durbar.
This etching of Jeypore dates to 1914. An earlier version appears in India by Flora Annie Steel, and illustrated by Mortimer Menpes (published 1905). Returning to this image, Menpes has cropped the scene and flipped the direction. The woodcutters were depicted using a drypoint to cut the design into a copper plate. These cuts held the ink in the printing process. Different tones and textures were created using different tools and depths of line. This form of etching, results in a fuzzy atmospheric finish.
In the 1910s, Menpes, as an older man, at home on his fruit farm, far from the bustle of the city, was turning his attention back to his travels. Perhaps there is an air of nostalgia to these etchings. The style owes a debt to Whistler’s etched images, including the Venetian doorways that Menpes had worked on as an assistant all those years before.