IN this book I endeavour to present, with whatever skill of penmanship I may possess, my father's impressions of Japan. I trust that they will not lose in force and vigour in that they are closely intermingled with my own impressions, which were none the less vivid because they were those of a child, for it was as a child, keenly interested in and enjoying all I saw, that I passed, four or five years ago, through that lovely flower-land of the Far East, which my father has here so charmingly memorialised in colour. — Dorothy Menpes, Note at the beginning of Japan, a Record in Colour.

Japan, a Record in Colour was the result of Mortimer Menpes' fateful visit to the country in the late 1880s. It was fateful in two ways, first, because it marked his break with James McNeill Whistler; and secondly, but no less importantly, because this book initiated the whole series of pictorial impressions of different countries that came to constitute his most popular body of work. The book would be followed by others similarly worked up in colour from his on-the-spot sketches, including his War Impressions, published in 1901, France, Spain and Morocco (1893), The Durbar (1903), Venice (1904), and two more books about India: India (1905) and The People of India (1910). Nearer home, and part of a popular genre of its own, was his book about the Thames (1906).

Most of these works have commentaries by, or rather "transcribed by," his daughter Dorothy, although she does say here that his impressions are "closely intermingled with my own." But the text of his second collection on India (1905) was by the Anglo-Indian author Flora Annie Steel (1847-1929), and the third by another writer, often of guide books, Geraldine Edith Mitton (1868-1955). Mitton also provided the text for the sequence of Thames watercolours.

Despite Dorothy Menpes's note at the beginning of this first book, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the first-person accounts in it are almost entirely her father's. He is obviously completely bowled over by the Japanese aesthetic sensibility, and invariably praises the visual and dramatic arts of Japan at the expense of those with which he was familiar in England. At the foot of the last page in this record of Japan, we learn: "The illustrations in this impression were engraved and printed by the Carl Hentschel Colourtype Process. The letterpress was printed by Messrs. R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh" (208). — Jacqueline Banerjee

Topics (excerpts from commentary)

Subjects of Paintings

The Paintings

Related Material


Lavery, Grace E. Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019 {Review].

Menpes, Dorothy. Japan: A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Libraries. Web. 19 June 2019.

Parkin, Michael. "Menpes, Mortimer Luddington (1855–1938), painter." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 20 June 2019.

Created 20 June 2019