|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|A prominent figure and multi-talented artist of the Lost Generation of
Avant-Garde Americans in Paris in the 1920s, Gerald Murphy was known
for painting everyday objects in flat, un-modulated colors. He
later said that he was "nourished on Leger's Picasso's, Braque's and
Gris' abstractions." He worked painstakingly, producing only a
handful of finished works in the decade of the 1920s.|
Murphy, a tall, attractive, redheaded man, was from a wealthy family
and was the heir to the Mark Cross leather fortune. He
graduated from Yale University in 1912, along with his future wife,
Sara Wiborg, the daughter of a millionaire manufacturer of printing
ink. Seeking to be independent from family pressures, the Murphys
were among the first young Americans to go abroad and "fully immerse
themselves in the active early Twentieth Century culture of Paris." (Antiques).
Underscoring Murphy's disdain for his family position, he was quoted as
referring to his family business as a "monument to the useless."
The Murphys, described as an ideal couple who knew
how to live with exceptional style and grace", (Meade 171) became the
center of a brilliant circle of American expatriates and
Europeans. They lived both in Paris and in a home they called
Villa America in Cap d'Antibes in the south of France. He
fostered creative friendships with many leading figures of that time
including Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, Pablo Picasso, Ernest
Hemingway, Fernand Leger, Charles Demuth, the Scott Fitzgeralds, and
Archibald MacLeish. He and his wife Sara Wiborg, who had three
children, were the real-life models for the main characters of F. Scott
Fitzgerald's novel, Tender is the Night, which was dedicated to the Murphys.
Murphy became a painter of considerable gifts, but only began studying
art in 1921 at age 33 after a career in business and a commitment to
landscape architecture. Among his painting teachers was
Natalia Goncharova, a Russian abstract painter who insisted that her
students could commit nothing to canvas that resembled reality.
He was also inspired by Juan Gris, Georges Braque and Fernand Leger,
and under these influences set aside his pursuit of landscape
architecture for modernist, abstract painting. In exhibitions,
he received praise for his work, and he also painted sets for Sergei
Diaghilev's Ballet Russe.
However, in 1929 when his son,
Patrick, was stricken with tuberculosis that he had caught from a
chauffeur the family had used in Hollywood, Villa America became
a place of great tension, and then was dismantled for the family's move
to the Swiss Alps. Murphy quit painting, and he had produced
only about a dozen meticulously crafted assemblages and a few
watercolors. He never sold any of them, and they were forgotten
until the 1950s when they were rediscovered.
A posthumous exhibit
was held at the New York Museum of Modern Art and in 1995 at the
Whitney Museum. The Whitney bought one of his assemblages, Cocktail, from that exhibit and paid more than one million dollars.
In 2006, Yale University Art Gallery acquired his work Bibliotheque, one
of only seven paintings known to survive at this time out of a total of
fourteen. This piece, inspired by the purist
philosophy of Amedee Ozenfant and Le Corbusier, reflects a desire to
create art that is timeless and classical and divorced from
contemporary social references.
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
"Yale University Art Gallery Acquires Rare Painting by Gerald Murphy", Antiques and The Arts Weekly, March 10, 2006, p. 68
Marion Meade, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This?
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