Oh Gerald Murphy, you kill me!

"No work of art can be true to nature in the objective sense. The nearer it approximates the natural appearance of objects the more it is likely to be far away from art." Stuart Davis, from "The Process of Painting," April 20, 1923.

Gerald Murphy. Razor. 1924 Oil on canvas. 32 5/8" x 36 1/2"

Gerald Murphy's work proudly displays mass-produced novelties of the 1920s—cigarettes, razors, pens, mouthwash—traditionally presented in advertising as icons of a modern society, and indeed as "objects of desire." The punchy visual vernacular of these promotions interested Murphy as well as some of his peers, including Stuart Davis and Fernand Léger. His Razor, 1924, is a prime example of this, projecting the flat, frontal, and scaleless aura of a billboard. These radically self-referential works are grouped here with paintings by Hannah Höch, Joan Miró, Iwan Babij, and Salvador Dalí of the same period. Making obvious references to earlier styles and subjects within the still life genre, these artists—whether associated with the German Neue Sachlichkeit ("New Objectivity") group or with French and Spanish Surrealism—produced works that share a sense of uncanny realism, attaining "objectivity" through a strikingly concrete, precise, and deliberate articulation of forms.


* Thanks to  Henning M. Leaderer from Germany for telling me about this awesome video!


Friends of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker, Alfred Hitchcock, and Fernand Léger, among others, Sara and Gerald Murphy strove to make something fine and beautiful of their lives through “living well,” creating art, and encouraging artist and writer friends. The result was some of the most noteworthy literature, music, theater, and art of the last century. Often portrayed simply as wealthy patrons, the Murphys in fact improvised their own brand of unconventional modernism that was a source of inspiration to their many talented friends.

Sara (1883—1975) and Gerald (1888—1964) Murphy moved to France in 1921 with their three young children to carve out a life free of the stifling social restrictions imposed by their wealthy New York families. They improvised their own brand of unconventional modernism that fostered creativity and intellectual freedom, epitomizing the “modern American” to both their countrymen and those they encountered abroad.

Calvin Tomkins, in his 1971 book about the Murphys, Living Well is the Best Revenge, wrote: “Those closest to the Murphys found it almost impossible to describe the special quality of their life, or the charm it had for their friends…They were utterly captivating.”

About  two years ago, Justin and I  viewed the Dallas Museum of Art Exhibit, Making it New, all about Gerald and Sara Murphy's Art, Life, and writings. Of all of the countless exhibits we've visited, I believe this far out ranks the others! Murphy's unusual choice of color, his flat, one-dimensional illustrations, and his interesting coupling of anterior, lateral, and bisected perspectives simply astounds me.

Although not my all-time favorite artist, he definitely rates in the top 15! Besides, lets face it, the Murphys--with their Parisian home, beach photography, and Artist/writer/philosopher friends--were pretty much the coolest couple of their time.

DesignJenny SmithComment