Arts Minister Simon Crean inspects a copy of the famous painting the Mona Lisa at the National Library of Australia, Canberra. Photo: Jay Cronan
Australia's Mona Lisa will be going on display at the National Library of Australia.
"It's not bad work is it?" Mr Crean said on closer inspection of the Australian copy of Da Vinci's famous portrait which was recreated by Mortimer Menpes in the early 1900s.
Menpes, a Port Adelaide artist, studied his craft in Europe under the great Romantic and Aesthetic masters of the 19th Century, including James McNeill Whistler.
He went on to paint 37 other copies of famous European works and donated them to Australia's earliest national cultural institution, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library.
"Menpes' skillful work is a reminder of an age when copying skills were highly regarded. He took the view that these were great works but Australian's can't see them, so he decided to copy them and bring them to Australia," Mr Crean said.
"Back in those days, Australians preferred international art. Unless you studied in Europe, unless you painted like the Europeans you weren't in the best of art form and high culture was still seen through a European prism."
Mr Crean acknowledged Menpes' "fakes" played a major role in the local artist revolution of the 19th Century which saw the development of the Heidelberg School and the emergence of local artists like Tom Roberts, who was beginning paint Australian landscapes while studying abroad.
As debate rages in Europe regarding the possibility of Mona Lisa 2.0, Menpes version called Menpes' Mona Lisa is two thirds smaller than the original and will be placed in the National Library of Australia's NLA to Z exhibition in early December.
Could the introduction of a fake into the display reignite Australian's love of knock offs and knickknacks emblazoned with iconic masterpieces?
"I'd like to see a lot of the great Australian artists in tea towel format as well," Mr Crean said.
He hopes the introduction of art to the core education curriculum by 2014 will encourage younger Australians to create their own masterpieces rather than develop a taste for gift shop kitsch.
"What I am interested in doing is making sure we use our artists as mentors and teachers and using our artistic and creative industries by getting them designing the content that goes into the curriculum," he said.
"This is an exciting time and if we get that right they'll be plenty of people not just taking up the paint brushes, but sticking on the tutus and playing the guitars as well as the classical instruments, that is what we want to see.
"Art is about creativity, it is about individualism and about structure. These are important life skills that transcend so many careers."