John Francis Murphy (1853-1921), View on Saratoga Lake, 1877, Oil on canvas, Dimensions:10 x 16 inches, actual; 20 ¼ x 26 ¼ inches, framed in a period giltwood frame, Signed and dated lower right: J. Murphy/ 77, Inscribed on verso: 74.
John Francis Murphy was one of the most successful Tonalist landscape painters of the late nineteenth century. Born in Oswego, New York, he got his start as a scenery painter at a theater in Chicago. He likely studied at the Chicago Academy of Design in the early 1870s, and moved to New York City in 1875. His earliest landscapes were painted in a Hudson River School style, but by the late 1870s he had moved toward the Barbizon style then becoming popular in America. Murphy absorbed the style primarily through the work of the great landscape painter George Inness, whose work began to receive greater attention at this time. Both Inness and Murphy sought to evoke emotional states through the medium of landscape, rather than to describe a specific location or to construct an ideal scene. As Murphy’s first biographer, Eliot Clark, wrote, “the study of Murphy’s work reveals the skillful picture maker finally discovering that in landscape man sees but the reflection of himself.” (1)
Murphy exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design, Society of American Artists, Brooklyn Art Association, Salmagundi Club, Boston Art Club, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Art Club of Philadelphia, Corcoran Gallery of Art, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893; Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1900; Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901; Charleston Exposition, 1902; St. Louis Exposition, 1904; and the Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, 1915. American Watercolor Society, He was a National Academician and a member of the Society of American Artists, American Watercolor Society, Salmagundi Club, Lotos Club, Brooklyn Art Club, and the Rochester Art Club. His work can be found in many museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum, New York; Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence; National Gallery of Art and Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Footnote: (1) Eliot Clark, J. Francis Murphy (privately printed, 1926), 23, quoted in David A. Cleveland, Intimate Landscapes: Charles Warren Eaton and the Tonalist Movement in American Art 1880-1920 (Groton, Massachusetts: de Menil Gallery at Groton School, 2004), 32.
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