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A Building in Sorgues, France

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A Building in Sorgues, France

Artist: John Francis Murphy (American, 1853-1921)

Date: 1886
Medium: Graphite on cream-colored, medium-weight wove paper
Overall: 9 13/16 × 13 7/8in. (24.9 × 35.2cm)
Image: 8 1/2 × 11 1/2in. (21.6 × 29.2cm)
Inscribed: Recto, lower right (graphite): "J. F. Murphy / 9/30/86 / Sorgue -" Verso, upper left (graphite): "7944" Lower right (graphite): "10 x 14-158-"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 84.59
Text Entries

In May 1886 Murphy and his wife went to Europe for six months. On July 9 they left Paris for the small village of Montigny-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau.(1) In late July and early August Murphy was in La Genevraye, close to Grenoble.(2) For the rest of August and during most of September he was in Montigny.(3) The date and inscription on the MWPI drawing suggests that Murphy made it on September 30 in the southern French village of Sorgues, near Avignon.(4) Then, in early October, he was back in Montigny before returning to Paris and thence to the United States.(5)

Murphy made numerous drawings while he was in France, many of which depict rural architecture. He appears to have been fascinated with the geometric qualities of the buildings he sketched, possibly because he recognized that their architectonic structure could add solidity to his loosely composed landscape compositions.  Judging from the collection of drawings that were in the possession of Murphy’s wife at the time of her death, Murphy created some of his most accomplished drawings during this trip to France.(6) In the early 1880s he had ceased making the type of drawings the critic Royal Cortissoz considered “almost too precise.”(7) And by the time he went to France in 1886 Murphy was drawing with considerable freedom and vigor. However, following his return to the United States, Murphy gradually abandoned the bold draftsmanship, liberal use of negative space, and strong contrasts of light and shadow seen in the MWPI sheet. The drawings he made later in his career are tonalist views of clearings, stump fields, woodlots, and meadows that have none of the chronological and topographical specificity that the date and identifying inscription on the MWPI drawing helps to establish.

1. J. Francis Murphy Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm 4353, frame 1290. For Montigny-sur-Loing as an artists’ colony see Michael Jacobs, The Good and Simple Life: Artist Colonies in Europe and America (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1985), 30, 32; also Will Low, A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), 172-83.

2. Paintings and Drawings by J. Francis Murphy, 38, lot 127; 163, lots 163 and 166.

3. Paintings and Drawings b J. Francis Murphy, 22, lot 43; 36, lots 114 and 117; 39, lot 129; 44, lot 150; 46, lots 164 and 167. Murphy paid two hotel hills in Montigny-sur-Loing in August and three in September. See J. Francis Murphy Papers, micro- film 4351, frames 885, 886, 888; 4358, frames 1383, 1384; 4360, frames 1136, 1138, 1139.

4. The date written on the MWPI sheet also appears on three other drawings of the village of Moret, near Fontainebleau (see Paintings and Drawings by J. Francis Murphy, 36, lot 115 [incorrectly spelled “Monet”], and J. Francis Murphy Papers, microfilm 4360, frames 1135, 1145). Moret is some distance from Sorgues; it is unclear how  Murphy could have been in both places on the same day.

5. Paintings and Drawings by J. Francis Murphy, 38, lot 128; 43, lot 149; 44, lots 151 and 152. Also J. Francis Murphy Papers, microfilm 4360, frames 1146, 1149.

6. See Murphy’s “Unbound scrapbook of sketches, 1871-1911,” in the J. Francis Murphy Papers, microfilm 4360, frames 917-1224.

7. Royal Cortissoz, “Paintings Show Intimate Study of J. F. Murphy,” New Kirk Herald Tribune, November 23, 1926, 21.



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