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Mona Lisa to go on display at National Library of Australia

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Mona Lisa to go on display at National Library of Australia

30 October 2012 SC200/2012

One of the most famous and most visited paintings in the world—the Mona Lisa—will be on show in the Treasures Gallery at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

Don't shelve your plans to visit The Louvre museum in Paris to see Leonardo da Vinci's portrait yet: this is a local copy painted at a time when Australians had no access to see the great European masterpieces.

Arts Minister Simon Crean and Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann today inspected the Australian copy of the Mona Lisa as Library preservation experts prepared it for display.

"Between 1900 and 1909, Port Adelaide born artist Mortimer Menpes painted this Mona Lisa, as part of a 38-piece collection of copies donated to the Australian Government," Mr Crean said.

"As international debate rages about whether recent research has revealed a second da Vinci Mona Lisa, or a copy, Menpes' skilful work is a reminder of an age when copying skills were highly regarded.

"In 1911, Menpes donated his copies of Great Masters to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, Australia's earliest national cultural institution.

"Back in those days, Australians preferred international art, but local artists such as Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts were developing a new language for Australian landscape painting."

Mr Crean said this lack of confidence led to a "cultural cringe", when anything Australian was not considered as good as British and European.

"These days, particularly as home to the world's oldest living culture, we are proud of our Indigenous work, and proudly hang works of Nolan and Boyd alongside international peers," he said.

"It's our art that the world is seeing—this month Quai Branly museum in Paris hosts an exhibition of Australian Indigenous Western Desert art.

"It's a two-way street, with the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition travelling from Paris to the National Gallery of Australia to run from 14 December until 2 April next year."

Menpes' Mona Lisa will join the National Library of Australia's NLA to Z exhibition at the Treasures Gallery from early December. In its first year, the Gallery attracted more than 120,000 visitors.

Menpes talent was recognised when he became a protégé of British Master James McNeill Whistler and his copies are regarded as skilful and convincing in their execution.

Today his 38 work collection is valued at close to $1 million. All pieces featured in The Great Masters by Mortimer Menpes exhibition at the National Library of Australia in 2002, attracting 22,000 visitors.

Media Contacts

• Media contact for Minister Crean's office: +61 2 6277 7380.