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Geisha musicians



Mortimer L Menpes


22 Feb 1855 – 01 Apr 1938

Alternate image of Geisha musicians by Mortimer L Menpes
Alternate image of Geisha musicians by Mortimer L Menpes
  • Details

    Other Title
    Japanese musicians in an interior with a shamisen
    Media category
    Materials used
    oil on wood
    26.0 x 19.5 cm board; 44.5 x 37.5 x 4.5 cm frame
    Signature & date

    Signed l.l., black oil "Mortimer Menpes". Not dated.

    Purchased with funds provided by the Marshall Bequest and the David George Wilson Bequest for Australian Art 2021
    South Building, ground level, Grand Courts
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Mortimer L Menpes

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Following the enforced end of Japan's isolationism in the 1850s, several artists associated with the impressionist and aesthetic movements in America and Europe, such as James McNeill Whistler, began collecting Japanese art, design and fashion and incorporating Japanese motifs and techniques into their works. One of Whistler's followers, the Australian expatriate artist Mortimer Menpes, travelled to Japan and witnessed its art and culture first-hand in 1887.

    Menpes' 'Geisha musicians' 1887-88, an intimate impression of a pair of seated entertainers, was inspired by this trip. Set against a darkened background, and accompanied by a shamisen resting on the floor, they wear the fashionable kimono and makeup of the period. Their pale faces, elaborately styled black hair, and red and blue kimonos embellished with floral motifs coalesce into a balanced and harmonious arrangement of form, colour, and tone.

    The custom frame, which features a frieze panel embellished with a geometric, basketweave style design, was conceived as an important element in the overall aesthetic experience of the work, an idea popularised by Whistler during the 1870s and 80s. The painting's attractiveness and small scale suggests that it was also intended to be a luxurious object within a fashionable domestic realm.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

Other works by Mortimer L Menpes

See all 11 works