MENPES, Mortimer Luddington (1855-1938)
Mortimer Menpes, Adelaide-born British artist : autograph note, signed, revealing his romantic feelings towards a young woman, possibly Australian socialite Pearl Faithfull. London, circa 1899.
Manuscript in ink on  pp of an octavo bifolium (180 x 110 mm), on embossed letterhead with Menpes’ Chelsea address ’25 Cadogan Gardens, S.W.’ (this residence, which Menpes had designed by the architect Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo and which was spectacularly decorated in the Japanese style, was completed in 1888, and Menpes and his family lived there until 1900), headed ‘Tuesday’ (no month or year); the addressee is given in the form of a cipher or monogram which incorporates the initials P and G (?) and two small circles (pearls?); the recipient was possibly wealthy Australian socialite Pearl Faithfull (later Lady Dilke), as the letter was originally in an album of autographs and letters which were collected by her during her time in London; marginal browning from old glue stains, the second leaf a little faded, mounting residue to the verso, not affecting the manuscript itself.
Transcript of note: ‘Dear [monogram], Tomorrow I shall be acting on a jury and likely to be kept till late. I am sorry to miss seeing you. I did think you were to be [with] Collins’ party at the Carlton or else I should not have turned up. I was sorry to find you so situated that I could not join you for a talk. I longed for a talk. Yours in friendship, Mortimer Menpes.’
Provenance: From an album compiled by Florence Pearl Faithfull (known as “Pearl”), later Lady Dilke. Pearl Faithfull was born in Concord, Sydney in 1875. She was the daughter of solicitor Henry Montague Faithfull (1848-1908), and the grand-daughter of the Australian pastoralist and politician William Pitt Faithfull, owner of Springfield Station, south of Goulburn, New South Wales. In London in July 1915 Pearl married Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, but following his descent into insanity and subsequent death in 1918 she returned to Australia. She later returned to England, and died in Hove, Sussex in 1955.
In this intriguing autograph note the flamboyant painter Mortimer Menpes reveals his romantic interest in a woman who clearly moves in London’s most elite social circles. He avoids naming her explicitly, preferring instead to address her using an artistic, cryptic monogram. Evidently there was an element of danger in arranging an assignation with her: in London in 1875, Menpes had married fellow Australian Rosa Mary Grosse (1857-1936), who had travelled from Adelaide to London on the RMSS Nubia with Menpes and his family the previous year. She had inherited a fortune on the death of her father, a circumstance which undoubtedly enabled Menpes and his family to lead a lavish lifestyle in London, to visit Japan and, not least, to pay for the fabulously opulent residence at 25 Cadogan Gardens. The couple had four children and remained married and close up until Rosa’s death in 1936. This note, then, is all the more interesting since it hints at a temptation to mid-life infidelity. We do not know if Menpes’ obvious infatuation went any further than the writing of secretive notes expressing desire and yearning.
The Carlton Hotel, owned by César Ritz, and with Auguste Escoffier as the head chef, was London’s most fashionable hotel and restaurant. It was opened in July 1899, a year prior to Menpes moving out of his opulent residence at 25 Cadogan Gardens in 1900. These two facts help greatly in narrowing the date range for when Menpes could have penned his note.
Whether or not the strikingly beautiful Pearl Faithfull was the recipient of this missive is a matter for conjecture. However, the fact that she placed a note of such a private nature for safekeeping in her album would suggest it was addressed to her, leading us to speculate that the “P” in the monogram stands for Pearl. The other letter in the monogram, “G”, is problematic though. Could it have stood for an affectionate nickname?
A studio portrait photograph of Pearl taken in London around this time (i.e. circa 1900) is held in the National Museum of Australia’s Springfield Collection.