Doing What Ya Gotta Do
Gerald fell in love and married Sara Wiborg, whose father made a fortune manufacturing and selling printer’s ink by the barrel and who owned 600 acres in Eastern Long Island’s Hamptons that would be worth billions today. Over the objections of both sets of parents, the wedding took place in 1915 in the Wiborgs’ Manhattan apartment, whereupon Gerald went off to war.
Following World War I, Gerald opted out of the family business and instead took a course in landscape architecture and elementary drafting at Harvard. With three children in tow, the Murphys set sail for France with no clear goal in mind beyond visiting the gardens of Europe and getting out from under the cloying social and financial expectations of their parents.
The Murphys were a golden couple—moneyed, stylish, beautiful to look at and great conversationalists with interests in art, music, ballet, gourmet cuisine and giving great parties. In Paris their circle of friends was a “Who’s Who” of the creative intelligentsia of the 1920s—Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Jean Cocteau, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Stravinsky, Fernand Léger and a legion more. Dick and Nicole Diver, the main characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “Tender Is the Night,” were the Murphys (much to their irritation).
The Making of a Painter
Until he arrived in Europe in 1921, Gerald Murphy had always assumed that painting was all about realism. In the catalog for the 1974 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, “The Paintings of Gerald Murphy,” William Rubin wrote that Murphy’s pet hate was “Leutze’s ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware,’ which he had been taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see as a child.” Rubin wrote:
Shortly after arriving in Paris in 1921, he saw, quite by chance, some paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Gris in the Paul Rosenberg Gallery on rue La Boétie. His response was intense. “I was astounded,” Murphy recalled. “My reaction to the color and form was immediate. To me there was something in these paintings that was instantly sympathetic and comprehensible.” He remembers telling his wife, Sara, “If that’s painting, that’s what I want to do.”