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John Francis Murphy

 (1853 - 1921)
John Francis Murphy was active/lived in New York, Illinois.  John Murphy is known for atmospheric, tonalist seasonal landscape painting.

John Francis Murphy

Biography from Dargate Auction Galleries

Known for his Tonalist-style landscape paintings, John Francis Murphy was referred to as the "American Corot" because of his similarity to the painting style of Camille Corot (1796-1875), one of the original Barbizon painters in France.

Murphy was born on December 11, 1853 in Oswego, New York.  Completely self-taught, he kept his studio for many years in New York City.  His work was first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1876, where he was inducted eleven years later.

He won numerous prizes, medals and honors for his landscape paintings, which are said to rank with those of George Inness, Alexander Wyant, and Homer Martin. Although his world was a limited one, his landscapes captured the forms of nature and the subtle nuances of the scene.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired)
John Francis Murphy is increasingly recognized today as one of the leading American Tonalist painters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Over a productive career of some fifty years, he developed a highly individual aesthetic that was notable for its expressive and poetic nuance. His art attracted a wide following, and was avidly collected by individuals and museums both during his lifetime and in the period following his death.

Murphy was born in Oswego, New York, near Lake Ontario. With his family he moved to Chicago in 1868, where his father was employed in the shipping industry. In Chicago, Murphy began working as a scene painter in a local theatre and was quickly promoted to lead his co-workers. Largely self-taught, his only training consisted of a few classes at the Chicago Academy of Design. There he became friends with Emil Carlsen and Theodore Robinson, and in 1873, Academy members elected him an Associate; a few weeks later, he became an Academician.

That same year, through private art lessons and sales of his work, Murphy was able to finance a three-month sketching trip to the Adirondack Mountains. He spent most of this time in Keene Valley in Essex County, where he met Winslow Homer. With so many other young painters during this period, Murphy was initially drawn to the descriptive naturalism of the Hudson River school artists. He particularly admired the pictures of William Hart, and his early works suggest the influence of that older painter.

Frustrated with Chicago and the public's tepid support for the visual arts, Murphy moved to New York in 1875. The National Academy of Design accepted one of his paintings for its annual exhibition in 1876. Financial circumstances soon forced the artist to move to Denmark, New Jersey, where he boarded with family friends from Chicago in exchange for helping on their farm. In the following year, Murphy returned to New York and rented a studio over the Vienna Bakery on Broadway. While he managed to sell an occasional picture, he supported himself primarily through illustration work. He joined the Salmagundi Club in 1878 and began to exhibit more widely.

The following year the American Water Color Society accepted one of Murphy's watercolors for exhibition, and he was elected a member of the Society in 1880. By this time Murphy had adopted a less descriptive and more suggestive style of painting that placed greater emphasis upon his emotional response to nature rather than simply delineating its visible forms. He started to blur the edges of natural forms and moderate strong contrasts of light and dark, seeking tonal harmonies in a limited range of hues. Tonalist painters like Alexander Wyant and George Inness strongly influenced his new style while his reflections on nature were increasingly informed by the writings of Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. As wispy, arboreal forms and green and pink tonalities appeared in his canvases, critical reviews began to describe Murphy as "the American Corot." His paintings more readily found buyers, and he became friends with such important artists as Elihu Vedder, George Fuller, and Albert Pinkham Ryder.

In 1883 Murphy married a fellow painter, Adah Clifford Smith, and the couple soon moved to New York's Hotel Chelsea. Two years later Murphy won the Second Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy for his painting Tints of a Vanished Past (1885; private collection). This prestigious award was the first in a long succession of prizes and distinctions that the artist would receive during his lifetime, including the Gold Medal of Honor (1887; American Art Association), the Webb Prize (1887; Society of American Artists), the William T. Evans Prize (American Water Color Society), the Gold Medal (1899; Philadelphia Art Club), and the George Inness Medal (1910; National Academy of Design), to name just a few. That same year the National Academy elected him an Associate, and he became a full Academician just two years later.

In 1886 Murphy and his wife made their first trip to Europe. They visited Paris and toured France and lived for six months in the village of Montigny. After returning to America, they purchased land in Arkville in the Catskill Mountains and built a house and studio. During the next three decades Murphy typically lived in Arkville for eight months of the year and then returned to the Hotel Chelsea each winter to paint and exhibit his work. His paintings prior to 1900, many of them twilight scenes, increasingly reflected the intimate, brooding style of the French Barbizon artists. After 1900, Murphy began to explore the abstract qualities of space in bold compositions that feature starkly empty, open fields, often in a higher color key with a more limited range of hues. These canvases, considered by many critics to be his finest works, feature perhaps his most suggestive imagery and accentuate the sensuous beauty of the painted surface itself.

During these final years Murphy achieved his greatest commercial success, with dealers and collectors. He and his wife returned to Europe in 1906 and visited England, Scotland, and Ireland. Three years later they traveled back to England and Scotland and toured Norway. Otherwise the couple largely continued their daily routines and seasonal residences in New York and Arkville until Murphy's death in 1921.

Examples of John Francis Murphy's painting can be found in numerous private collections as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Freer Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Detroit Institute of Art; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from The Artisfun Gallery
John Francis Murphy, N.A. was born in Oswego, New York on December 11, 1853. In 1868, at the age of fifteen, Murphy went west with his family to Chicago, where he began painting billboards and theater backdrops.  He did receive a few weeks of training at the Chicago Academy of Design.  In 1874 he moved to New York where he was employed as an illustrator.

He started sketching in the Adirondacks (where he met Winslow Homer), then to open a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City.  Primarily a self-taught artist, he depicted the coastal flatlands of New York and New Jersey and similar countryside in New England.  His early work until c.1885 was based on direct observation of nature and was often small-scale.  In 1886, Murphy made a six-month trip to France, where he deepened his familiarity with the work of the French Barbizon painters.

In middle-period works, such as New England Landscapes, Murphy was influenced by A. H. Wyant, George Inness, Homer Dodge Martin and the Barbizon school painters Corot, Rousseau and Daubigny.  He spent summers at Arkville in the Catskill Mountains from 1887, and Wyant's presence there between 1889 and 1892 had a pronounced influence on Murphy's developing Tonalist style.  His work of this time consists of spare expressions of barren wind-blown land painted with a limited palette.  Murphy typically prepared his canvases early to give time for the underpaint to dry and then applied brown and gold, which he flattened with a palette-knife as a basis for later stages of rubbing (with pumice), lacquering and glazing.  After 1900, Murphy painted some of his finest oils, in which he achieved an almost pure tonal unity.

He exhibited first at the National Academy of Design in 1876, was elected an associate in 1885 and a full academician in 1887.  He became a member of the Society of American Artists in 1901, the American Watercolor Society, the Salmagundi Club, the Rochester Art Club, the Brooklyn Art Club in 1900, and the Lotus Club.

He exhibited at the National Academy of Design 1876-1921 (in 1885 he received the second Hallgarten prize for his painting Tints of a Vanished Past), at the Brooklyn Art Association 1878-1885, at the Boston Art Club 1881-1909, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art 1884-1885, 1898-1901, 1908-1911, 1916, 1921, at the Society of American Artists 1887, 1902, at the Columbian Exposition (Chicago) 1893, at the American Water Color Society 1894, at the Art Club of Philadelphia 1899, at the Paris Exposition 1900, at the Pan-American Exposition 1901, at the Charleston Exposition 1902, at the St. Louis Exposition 1904, at the Corcoran Gallery 1907-, at the Salmagundi Club 1911, and at the Pan-Pacific Exposition (San Francisco) 1915.

His works are represented at over 50 museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Portland Art Museum, The Hudson River Museum, and the Butler Institute of American Art.

John Francis Murphy, N.A. died on January 30, 1921 in New York City but was buried in Arkville, New York.

Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide
Who Was Who In American Art
Eliot Clark, J. Francis Murphy (1926)
The Poetic Vision: American Tonalism

Other Internet Sources

Biography from Newman Galleries
Biography photo for John Francis Murphy
A leading tonalist of the American Barbizon School, John Francis Murphy painted landscapes similar to those of George Inness.  He was born in 1853, and was largely self-taught.  He first exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1876.  He went on to earn several prizes for his paintings including a Gold Medal in 1910 from the National Academy of Design, two awards from the Society of American Artists in 1887 and 1902; and Medals from the Pan-American Exposition in 1904.

Murphy was made a full member of the National Academy in 1887.  He participated in a number of other artistic societies including the Rochester and Brooklyn Art Clubs, and the American Watercolor Society.

His work can be viewed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the National Gallery of Art, both in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. John Francis Murphy died in 1921.

Newman Galleries

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About  John Francis Murphy

Born:  1853 - Oswego, New York
Died:   1921 - New York City
Known for:  atmospheric, tonalist seasonal landscape painting

Essays referring to
John Francis Murphy