The Murphys at the DMA

One of the exhibitions currently at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is Making it New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy. This exhibition is a big deal for the DMA because before the contemporary and fine arts museums merged in Dallas, the contemporary museum was the first to discover Gerald Murphy as an artist back in the early 1960’s and Murphy actually gave the museum two of his paintings. Only 7 (out of 14 to 16 total) of Murphy’s paintings have been found. These seven are on display at the exhibition.

Who were Sara and Gerald Murphy? They were expatriates living in France in the 1920’s and were friends with and financial supporters of many of the famous authors and artists of the day. These included Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Léger, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, and many others. The Murphys had three children and they left France in 1929 when their youngest son was diagnosed with tuberculosis. A few years later their middle child, another son, died unexpectedly from meningitis. The youngest died two short years later. Only their oldest child and daughter, Honoria, lived to adulthood. Their tragic story is told in Everybody was So Young, written by Amanda Vaill and first published in 1998.

Not only were the Murphys friends with all of the above artists and writers, but they seemed to have a certain élan all of their own that attracted many. Unfortunately for the art world, Gerald gave up painting when his youngest was first diagnosed with tuberculosis. When they came back to America, Gerald worked for his family’s company, Mark W. Cross & Co. The exhibit showcases many of the Murphys’ personal photographs, items used as models for Gerald’s paintings, and various letters and scrapbooks. There are also two short films about their early and later lives. It was amazing to see so much of their personal memorabilia. Sara’s wedding dress, Gerald’s watch, and many hats, scarves, purses, and canes are just some of the things to see, besides numerous photos from the beach at Antibes and the photos taken of the family by Man Ray. Gerald’s paintings decorate one gallery of the show, where you enter and leave the exhibition. Other works by artists that knew and were friends with the Murphys are interpersed throughout the exhibition.

One of the highlights of the exhibit for me was seeing and reading the letter that Scott Fitzgerald wrote to Sara after the death of Patrick, the youngest child that had suffered from tuberculosis. It was so sad and so poignant and left me crying. Another was seeing little Patrick Murphy’s drawing of Léger next to the drawing of Patrick in his sick bed by Léger. Patrick was bedridden and did drawings and etchings to pass the time.

Amanda Vaill and Linda Patterson Miller (editor, Letters from the Lost Generation: Gerald and Sara Murphy and Friends, 2002) will both be speaking at different events about the Murphys at the museum in the next few weeks. The exhibition ends September 14th.

  1 comment for “The Murphys at the DMA

  1. Ann
    July 16, 2008 at 5:00 PM

    Denise,
    My oldest daughter and I went to the DMA yesterday and also loved the exhibit. We loved the clothes, especially Sarah’s wedding dress. And, adored the pictures of Gerald naked on his boat! We decided that Gerald was the first ever Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren model! What a fabulous life they had! Also, if you hated Indiana Jones-follow it up with The Love Guru and Get Smart and you will have seen all the crummy summer movies! Ann

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