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 Samuel Aloysius Murray  (1869 - 1941)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: sculptor-portrait, memorial

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Ad Code: 3
Samuel Aloysius Murray
from Auction House Records.
Thomas Eakins Sitting
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A close friend of Thomas Eakins, and noted sculptor in Philadelphia in the early 20th century, Samuel Murray had many commissions of portrait busts, full-length figures of prominent persons, and full length statuettes. He partook in large-scale projects such as the Smith Memorial in Fairmount Park, the Witherspoon Building, and memorial reliefs at the Gettysburg battlefield memorial.

The Witherspoon Building on Juniper Street between Walnut and Sansom streets had an exterior of heroic-sized sculptures, some of them done by Alexander Milne Calder and ten ten-and-a-half-foot statues of biblical prophets by Murray. Eakins assisted Murray who was paid $300. for each completed figure. For this commission, they took special studio space to accommodate the large terra cotta statues. (In 1961 all of the exterior figures were removed from the Witherstone building because of danger from deterioration. Calder's works were preserved and are now on the grounds of the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia. Murray's works were put up for sale for the cost of crating. Several of them ended up at a Catholic church in Skagway, Alaska, and the remaining eight went to Christian and Jewish cemeteries in Frazier, Pennsylvania where they were ruined by vandals).

Some art historians have suggested that Eakins and Murray worked on each other's pieces because they often did the same subjects and used the same models. At least forty of Murray's portraits were subjects that Eakins had painted and were often done at the same time with Eakins painting and Murray sculpting. Murray also did several sculptural studies of Eakins and of the Eakins family. He also introduced Eakins to professional fighting, the theatre, the Roman Catholic clergy---all of which provided Eakins with painting subjects.

Murray was born in Philadelphia to an Irish family of eleven children, and the father was a stonemason employed by Woodland Cemetery in that city. Reportedly the young Samuel saw an artist sketching at that cemetery and asked the artist where he could learn to paint. The artist was Thomas Eakins, and he invited Murray to join one of his classes at the Philadelphia Art Students League. Murray enrolled in November, 1886 at the age of seventeen.

The League was only one year old and was a rival institution to the Pennsylvania Academy. The League was established by students of Eakins at the Academy who protested his forced resignation the previous February. (Eakins had allowed women to take classes with nude models). Murray was a fast learner and within several years became Eakins' assistant, enlarging sketches to canvases and helping to work out perspectives in Eakins' famous work, "The Gross Clinic", now at the Jefferson Medical School.

Eakins noted Murray's aptitude for modelling and helped him cast from clay to plaster and then Eakins' obtained Murray's position, held for fifty-one years, as teacher of the anatomy and life-modelling class at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, later named Moore College of Art. Murray also lectured on anatomy. In 1892, Murray became Eakins' assistant at the Art Students League of Philadelphia, and the two shared a studio on Chestnut Street.

Murray married Jennie Dean Kershaw after a twenty-year engagement when Murray, three years younger than she, was forty six. She was a homely, thin woman whom Eakins painted in a famous portrait in the collection of Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Lincoln. They had no children, was reportedly a very kind beloved woman who survived her husband by eleven years.

Murray became very close to the Eakins family and would take long bicycle trips with Thomas. Murray was reportedly a good looking man with abundant dark brown hair and decidedly Irish features. Later in his life, he became deaf and would talk loudly of Eakins, sometime embellishing the stories from his Irish imagination.

His early works reflected Eakins' realistic style, but the "later pieces often exhibited stiff and awkward qualities." (Baigell) Most of his work was portraiture of actual people although he did a few allegorical pieces.

He began exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy when he was age 22, and from then on was represented in exhibitions through his lifetime. He also exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and the Louisiana Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. However, he never went abroad, and his reputation remained primarily regional to his own city and state.

Thomas Eakins ever held the highest opinion of his protege and according to art historian Lloyd Goodrich wrote: "No better work in my judgment has ever been done in America." Goodrich also opined: "Everything we know about Eakins and his art shows that his relation to Murray was that of father to son. In his youth he [Eakins] had expressed a desire for 'strong beautiful children.' Now he had a son who was a talented co-worker and companion.

THOMAS EAKINS by Lloyd Goodrich. Vol II, pp. 99-110

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