Doing What Ya Gotta Do
In essence, Gerald Murphy, a potentially great painter, became the child’s nurse. The Murphys did what they had to do.
In 1935, their son Baoth, age 15, suddenly died of meningitis and four years later Patrick succumbed to tuberculosis. As Calvin Tompkins wrote in “Living Well Is the Best Revenge:”
One of the things that kept Murphy going during these years was the necessity of coping with a family economic crisis. The Mark Cross company, from which he had escaped so happily years before, had gone precipitously downhill since the death of Patrick Francis Murphy, in 1931, and it was now about a million dollars in debt and under pressure to declare itself bankrupt. Murphy was obliged to assume responsibility for the firm. Taking over the management, he retained full control for the next twenty-two years, during which time he cleared the debts, moved the store to Fifth Avenue and Fifty-second Street, and applied his imagination and taste to a variety of new items, which proved reasonably profitable. But the work, he said, was never congenial and often seemed like sleepwalking. “There is something about being struck twice by lightning in the same place,” he once wrote to a friend. “The ship foundered, was refloated, set sail again, but not on the same course, nor for the same port.”
Life was never again fun for Gerald Murphy. But this was the Great Depression and many people depended upon Mark Cross for their lives and livelihoods.
Again, Gerald Murphy did what he had to do, although sans joy. For 22 years he was an ordinary commuter-businessman to New York City.
Following his son’s diagnosis of TB, Murphy never again picked up a paintbrush. He told his biographer, Calvin Tomkins, that he realized his work was not first-rate and that “the world is filled with second-rate painting.” More likely the illness and deaths of his two sons sucked the artistic creativity out of him and he turned all his energy into running Mark Cross.