A painter of quiet, sunlit landscapes and refined still lifes, Hermann Dudley Murphy was a significant figure in the Boston School of Painting in the early twentieth century. He was born in Marlboro, Massachusetts. His father was an Irish-born shoe manufacturer and his mother came from a politically influential New Hampshire family. Murphy’s first studies took place during the 1880s, when he enrolled at Boston’s Museum School, studying there under the eminent painters Edmund Tarbell and Frank W. Benson. Toward the end of the decade, Murphy spent time on a survey expedition to Nicaragua. In 1891, he left for Paris, where he was a pupil at the Académie Julian of Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant and became enthralled by the work of James McNeill Whistler. Whistler became the major influence on Murphy’s art, inspiring his preference for gentle, refined palettes and simplified, tonally unified compositions.
On the completion of his studies in Paris, Murphy settled in Boston, where he became active in a number of Boston artists’ associations including the Copley Society, the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, the Guild of Boston Artists, and the Boston Society of Water Color Painters. He exhibited with these groups as well as with the New York Water Color Club. In 1903, Murphy built his home and studio in Winchester, Massachusetts, to which he gave the Celtic name of “Carrig-Rohane.” From 1931 to 1937, Murphy taught art at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In the spirit of Whistler, shortly after his return from Europe, Murphy began to create frames for his own works that harmonized with the images portrayed. When he moved to Winchester, he was joined in a framing business by Charles Prendergast, who shared his aesthetic. Working from a shop in the basement of Murphy’s home, the two artists produced frames inscribed “Carrig-Rohane” after Murphy’s home. The hard-carved gold-leafed frames they created suited the gentle images created by many of the leading artists of the time. In 1905, the two artists moved their shop to Boston. At first the frames were carved according to Murphy’s designs, but eventually the company hired artists and the shop entered into a partnership with Vose Galleries of Boston.
Murphy’s art may be divided into three periods. In the first, beginning from the time of his return from Paris until the early 1910s, he focused on portraiture and figural studies, using soft colors creating decorative, aesthetically refined compositions. He also created landscapes, working in Massachusetts in Winchester, Cape Cod, and Marblehead, and in Woodstock, New York and Ogunquit, Maine. These works featured quiet tonal schemes and abstractly arranged compositions reflecting the influence of Whistler. In the mid-1910s through the 1920s, Murphy’s second period, he derived inspiration from several trips to the tropics, especially to Puerto Rico. These works reveal a range of brighter, richer colors and looser, more energetic brushwork. In Murphy’s third period, the 1920s and 1930s, he concentrated on producing still lifes, working in a vibrant Impressionist style.
Murphy received many honors in the course of his career. He received medals at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 and from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis in 1904. In 1911, the City Art Museum of Saint Louis held a three-person show, featuring the art of Murphy along with that of Augustus Vincent Tack and William Baxter Closson.
Murphy’s works may be found in many important private and public collections including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cleveland Art Museum; the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Academy of Design, New York; the Springville Museum of Art, Utah; and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
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