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In Art, Entertaining, Uncategorized on
June 15, 2018

Meet the Murphys: Art and Entertaining on the French Riviera


Al fresco dinners overlooking the ocean towards Cannes, fantastical art soirees in Paris and a true joie de vivre made Gerald and Sara Murphy the hosts with the most in 1920’s France. Their incandescent sensibility as a couple inspired works by the most prolific authors and artists of their time, while their entertaining prowess transformed the way the French Riviera summered. This is a tale of an American expatriate twosome who The New Yorker coined “masters in the art of living.” Welcome to the wonderful world of the Murphys!



A young Sara Wiborg, 1905.

Sara Wiborg enjoyed an idyllic upbringing singing classic opera with her sisters, becoming fluent in French, Italian and German and frolicking on the beaches of East Hampton. Her family home, the Dunes, was a 30-room mansion complete with an operating dairy, Italianate gardens, flagstone terraces and stables. The Dunes would set the stage for the meeting of Sara and Gerald, a 16-year-old boy 4 years her junior, at a splashy party in 1904.


The Dunes, image courtesy of the East Hampton Historical Society.

Gerald’s father pioneered the first wrist watch, introduced the Thermos bottle to America and turned Mark Cross, a humble leather goods supplier, into an elegant 5th Avenue destination. While Gerald didn’t care to share this business ingenuity with his father, he did inherit his sense of style and was voted best-dressed man in his 1911 class at Yale.


Another view of the Dunes, isn’t it spectacular?! (Image courtesy of Curbed Hamptons.)

Gerald the clotheshorse would tie the knot with Sara, the warm and very direct socialite, 11 years after their meeting at the Dunes. The Murphy marriage was one of wonderful contentedness, admired by their friends and inspiring the characters of Nicole and Dick Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night.” Their Bohemian bond allowed them to blossom individually and both felt as though Boston was a stifling place for their creative pursuits. In 1921, with their three young children in tow, they set sail for Europe and didn’t look back.



Attending Compte Étienne de Beaumont’s Automotive Ball in 1924. Photographed by Man Ray.

Thanks to a highly favorable exchange rate for Americans, Sara and Gerald arrived in the City of Light and became unpaid apprentices to Serge Diaghilev at the Ballets Russes. Ballet Russes was the epicenter of the modern arts movement and where the duo met most of their European friends, all of whom had favorable impressions of the Murphys.


Gerald produced Within the Quota, a production for Les Ballets Suédois at Theatre des Champs-Elysees, 1923. He created the décor and costumes, the music was by Cole Porter. (Image courtesy of MoMa)

Their memorable debut as party hosts was a famous 1923 bash to celebrate the première of Stravinsky’s ballet Les Noces. It was held on the Seine in a barge in front of the Chambre des Députés with the who’s who of the modern movement onboard. The party lacked flowers, as they were not sold in Paris on Sundays, so the Murphys purchased a boatload of toys from a local bazaar and arranged them down the middle of the long banquet table. It is said that Picasso was entranced by the décor! The champagne dinner was legendary, filled with music, convivial conversation and performances by ballerinas. While Gerald and Sara were enchanting their new amis, they, in turn, were being influenced by these modern thinkers and artists.



Gerald Murphy, Cocktail, 1927. Oil and pencil on linen, 29″ x 30″. Whitney Museum of American Art permanent collection.

On a winter day in Paris, the couple wandered into the Rosenberg Gallery and Gerald was immediately taken by Picasso and Braque works which he was seeing for the first time. He turned to Sara and remarked “if that’s painting, it’s what I want to do.” Gerald began his only formal training by taking art classes from Natalia Goncharova. Accompanied by Sara, they would go to Natalia’s home and he would learn techniques attributed to the Precisionist, Cubist and Pop Art movements. Gerald Murphy would produce 8 prominent paintings from 1921-29 in the Realism and Abstraction genres. A single painting would take months to complete due to his meticulous attention to detail of objects like a wasp or pear. He exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1923 and 2 of his most notable works are currently in the Dallas Museum’s permanent collection. While Gerald was busy painting, Sara was enjoying being painted.


Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923. On view at The Met, gallery 830.

Mrs. Murphy became a muse for Picasso in 1923 and was the subject of many of his works including Woman in White. She wore pearls over her shoulders at the beach, explaining that it was good for them and Picasso took note. Her signature pearls can be seen in some of his classical representations of women during this time. The Murphys’ sun-splashed life on the French Riviera was also captured by friend and photographer Man Ray.


Sara and her children Baoth, Patrick and Honoria captured by friend Man Ray in 1926.



Villa America: the first flat-roofed house on the Riviera. Photo from Wendy Goodman via The Cut.

Gerald and Sara set up camp in Cap d’Antibes and purchased a humble home they named Villa America. The villa was unpretentious but the garden was exquisite. The previous owner had grown exotic choices such as lemon, date and olive trees that paired nicely with Arabian maples, pepper and fig trees. They would break bread under a large silver linden tree surrounded by camellia, tulip and rose bordered gravel paths. It wasn’t long before their friends like Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Cole Porter would come to visit.


The Mad Beach Party, photo by Francois Biondo, 1923. (Sara and Gerald Murphy Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

The couple is credited for single-handedly making the French Riviera a summer destination. In 1923, they convinced the Hotel du Cap to stay open during the summer months so they could entertain their globe-trotting pals. Sara introduced their set to “sunbathing” and made it an acceptable form of leisure hosting picnics and relaxing on the shore before a late afternoon swim at Eden Roc. Provençal and traditional American fare kept guests satiated while they overlooked the coast from the Villa America garden. The Murphys kept three boats; a small looper dubbed Picaflor, Honoria a larger vessel named after their daughter, and a 100-foot schooner called the Weatherbird after a Louis Armstrong record. I found many pictures of Gerald sailing the seas on the Picaflor in little more than a hat but thought best not to include them here!


Gerald and Sara Murphy at the beach, late 1920s. Image via The New Yorker.

The spirit of the U.S.A. was kept alive with the expatriates always reading the latest American books and playing the most current jazz records in the villa. They made sure to have the newest American gadgets, such as the waffle maker, shipped to them much to the delight of their young children and European friends. These little touches were examples of how while guests were not entertained lavishly with big parties, the intimate setting they were welcomed into would charm them greatly. Their daughter Honoria remembered them as “a comfortable unit. Comforting to their friends when they were discouraged.  Mother was warm and friendly and direct. Father was reserved and very funny. It was an exchange of minds.” The Murphys’ legacy will always be the original, beautiful life they created for themselves and their friends.


Gerald and Sara Murphy with Ginny Carpenter and Cole Porter.

In 1934, one of their sons fell very ill and the Murphys came back to the Hamptons. Shortly after returning Stateside, both of their sons passed away of meningitis and tuberculosis, respectively. Gerald became president of Mark Cross in Manhattan out of necessity and was relieved to retire in 1956. Sara’s family home the Dunes became too expensive and vast to upkeep and they wound up demolishing it in 1941 when they couldn’t find a buyer. Sara and Gerald converted the dairy barn into Swan Cove where they would live for the rest of their days.


The Murphys at Swan Cove, East Hampton, 1963.

Interested in more things Murphy?

Head to Mrs. Blanding’s blog to see the Pink House, the original servants’ quarters of the Dunes property, owned and enjoyed by daughter Honoria’s children until 2010.

Add this book, a portrait of Sara and Gerald’s legendary life written by Honoria Murphy Donnelly, and this volume about their love story penned by family friend Amanda Vaill, to your summer reading list.

First image: Sara and Gerald Murphy Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
In Art on
May 10, 2018

Mary Cassatt: Mothers & Daughters in Art

The sentimentality of Mother’s Day is heightened for me this year as it’s my first one being a mom. My baby daughter has given me a new found appreciation for my own mother who raised three of us girls with much grace and heaps of love. Growing up, we had a couple of Mary Cassatt prints in our bathroom and they perfectly mirrored what transpired in that space everyday when we were little. The evening bathing ritual of a mother fastidiously, yet oh-so-gently, washing the day’s dirt off her small child with stories and songs woven in. While maternal imagery is abundant in art history, think the Madonna and child, we are rarely treated to the theme of mothers and daughters. Fortunately for us, Cassatt captured on canvas many tender moments depicting mothers and daughters during the Impressionist movement.

The Child’s Bath (The Bath), 1893, oil on canvas, 39″ x 26″ Art Institute of Chicago

Motherhood is not idealized in Cassatt’s works, the subjects’ hands look worn while involved in the most ordinary scenes of daily life. Inspired by the fondness of her nieces and nephews and a renewed cultural interest in child rearing, Cassatt created a new genre of painting for mothers and children outside of commissioned portraiture. The late 19th century was a time of child rights reform and we see Cassatt’s championing of that in her depictions of modern female figures, upper and working class alike, making an effort to protect their children through everyday actions.

Mère et enfant (Reine Lefebre and Margot before a Window), c. 1902, private collection

Her dominant placement of mother and child, filling up the entire composition, was inspired by photography and Japanese wood-cuts. Cassatt often molded the mother-daughter duo into an aesthetically delightful unit using color, form and shape to present us with powerful imagery of maternal nurturing. Much like Japanese wood-cuts, the perspective of her pieces have unusual angles and we’re thrust into the work using the subject’s point-of-view.

The Boating Party, 1893-94, 35″ x 46″ on view at The National Gallery of Art, D.C.

Japanese decorative works were à la mode in Paris at the time Cassatt lived in France. Their heavy influence on her pieces is most evident in The Boat Party. This ambitious painting was created to be the pièce de résistance of Cassatt’s first solo exhibition in the States in 1895. Boldly hued shapes come together making an almost abstract composition while patterned ensembles and textured water create a distinguished geometry most pleasing to the eye. A sliver for a horizon at the tippy top dwarfs any distance and we’re cajoled into looking down at the scene of a mother and baby being rowed ashore. Cassatt’s wealthy American contacts helped to make French avant-garde painting like this just as wildly popular in the US as it was in Paris.


Young Mother Sewing, oil on canvas, 36″ x 29″ 1900, The Met

Louisine Havemeyer, an American who purchased Young Mother Sewing in 1901, marveled: “Look at that little child that has just thrown herself against her mother’s knee, regardless of the result and oblivious to the fact that she could disturb ‘her mamma.’ And she is quite right, she does not disturb her mother. Mamma simply draws back a bit and continues to sew.” Cassatt captures all the nuances of the close mother and child relationship which is remarkable considering these two subjects were unrelated. Likely two models or friends of Cassatt, they serve as living props in this revolutionary take on the still-life genre.

Summertime, c. 1894, oil on canvas, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago

In Summertime we again see models, a young woman and girl, posing as mother and daughter. Boats and ducks were a common scene for Mary Cassatt at her country home about an hour outside of Paris in Mesnil-Théribus. While summering there in 1894 she created a series of water-inspired paintings commemorating the outdoor splendor. The mother figure is dressed in genteel finery for the hot climate with a wide brimmed hat and white gloves. We see her daughter in a carefree shift dress, its strap falling, soaking up a leisurely summer afternoon; a simple moment commemorated in oils.

The Mirror, 1906

Vibrant yellow tones and an affectionate bond draw us into the above piece highlighting a more working class mother and daughter than the duo in Summertime. A worn chair, the child’s lack of clothing and slightly bronzed skin, a sign of much time spent outdoors, tip us off on their social standing. The hand mirror suggests that the mother is teaching her daughter at a very young age that vanity is of utmost importance. By painting this, Cassatt is making a statement against traditional gender roles and fighting back at the patronizing treatment she received from male artists during her career.

Breakfast in Bed, oil on canvas, 1897

While Cassatt inserted social commentary into most of her work, Breakfast in Bed (one of my very favorite works of art!) seems free of any and is simply lovely to gaze at. We’re met with a child’s curious fixation on the nearby tea cup while her mother is physically engaged in their embrace yet looking wistfully away. It makes us wonder what she’s thinking about on such a quiet and dreamy morning – perhaps how awe-inspiring motherhood is.

These exquisitely private portraits of mothers and daughters have reminded me to savor every minute with my little one which is just how I plan on spending this Mother’s Day. I hope they have moved you in a similar manner and to all the mothers and nurturers, here’s wishing you a wonderful Mother’s Day with your nearest and dearest!

PS If you’d like an easy way to introduce art history to your young children or grandchildren, I recommend the board book Quiet Time with Cassatt. I’ve really enjoyed reading it to Louisa, I’m hoping she catches the art bug too!

All images courtesy of Wikimedia unless otherwise noted.
In Art, Decor on
November 25, 2017

Auction Preview: The Peggy & David Rockefeller Collection

The name Rockefeller is often taken as synonymous with collector and in the spring of 2018, Christie’s will offer the exquisitely expansive treasury of Peggy and David Rockefeller at auction. They have just unveiled a few highlights from the collection which started its global tour in Hong Kong over the weekend and I had to share the finery! From almost priceless works of art to incredible dinner services, the sale of these esteemed items will contribute to the most significant philanthropic auction ever held. Ready for a glimpse of the goods?

Decadent Dessert Service

Rockefeller Collection Highlights

Red and Sky Blue never looked so rich!

Made especially for Emperor Napoleon I of France by Sèvres porcelain, this ‘Marly Rouge’ dessert service boasts a fascinating provenance and delicious details. Papillons et fleurs decorate two sugar bowls, an ice-pail and the rest of the service created between 1807-09. It lived briefly at the palace of Fontainebleau and was brought with Napoleon to exile on the island of Elba. This rare delivery has not been seen on the art market for 75 years since Abby Aldrich Rockefeller acquired the pieces and it is estimated to bring in $150,000-250,000.

Make it a Monet

Highlights from the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection

Claude Monet, Nymphéas en Fleur, oil on canvas, 63″ x 71″. Estimated at $35,000,000.

Acquired by Peggy and David in 1956 from a Parisian dealer with the guidance of MoMa’s first director, Alfred Barr, this striking rendition of the garden at Giverny is one of the largest canvases Claude Monet ever worked on. During World War I, Monet had a period of inspired creativity in which he created gloriously vibrant pieces celebrating the splendor of his beloved home. Most likely painted in late afternoon, the dark purple waters and glowing white lillies drew the Rockefellers in immediately. David Rockefeller had the distinct experience of watching his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, co-found the Museum of Modern Art and subsequently developed his keen eye for fine art.

Rose Period Pick

A Rose Period Pablo Picasso piece from the Rockefeller Collection offered by Christie's

Fillette à la Corbeille Fleurie, 1905. Image courtesy of 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

This gorgeous ode to the bohemian lifestyle of the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso hung in the Rockefeller’s New York townhouse library for decades. It came to be theirs when David assembled a group of prominent art collectors to purchase pieces from the renown Gertrude Stein collection. Numbers written on slips of paper were tossed into a hat, Rockefeller serendipitously picked “1” and was able to secure he and Peggy’s first choice, Young Girl with a Flower Basket. The two had a rule when buying art that they both had to like the piece before purchasing it and that little caveat served them well as collectors!

The Golden God

Buddhist God A Highlight from the Christie's Rockefeller Collection Auction

At just 16.5″ tall, this gilt-bronze homage to the god Amitayus is an exquisite example of Imperial artisanship.

The Rockefeller family’s strong ties to Asia, both cultural and charitable, are to thank for the bevy of significant artifacts from the region in their collection. Take, for example, this astounding mostly gold and brass statue of Amitayus, the god of long life in Chinese Buddhism. It was commissioned by the Kangxi Emperor during his reign from 1662 to 1722 and crafted in an imperial workshop. It is estimated to be in the $400,000-600,000 range and would look quite nice on a mantle, don’t you think?

Posh Porcelain

China Trade Rockefeller Pattern Porcelain from Christie's

The collection, comprising a special pair of fruit coolers, is estimated to be between $100,000-150,000.

Dinner party guests of Peggy and David’s would have been treated to courses served on Chinese export porcelain emblazoned with the “Rockefeller pattern.” It is the most elaborate pattern of all the great China Trade produced dinner services with sepia and gilt borders ensconcing intricate Chinese scenes, each one unique. Once belonging to David’s parents Abby and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. he and his brother Nelson enjoyed adding pieces to the large collection over the years. It’s so nice to hear of fine china actually being used, if those plates could talk I’m sure they’d have vivid tales of fabulous parties past!

Matisse Masterpiece

Henri Matisse piece offered by Christie's as part of the Rockefeller Collection

Oil on canvas. 23″ x 31″, estimated at $50 million. Image courtesy of 2017 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Drumroll please… This is the most significant Matisse work to be up for auction in a generation, as well as the highest estimated work of Henri’s to ever grace the bidding block. Painted in 1923, this piece was a special opportunity for Matisse to introduce his best work for comparison against that of past masters. The reclining female is said to have been one of the greatest paintings by the artist to be owned privately. Rich brushwork and brilliant hues made Odalisque Couchée aux Magnolias a standout in the Rockefeller’s Hudson Pines Home.

Son David, Jr. says the upcoming auction is ‘an extraordinary opportunity for the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection to be sold and the revenue used to support the important institutions that they supported in their lifetimes.’

Son David, Jr. says the upcoming auction is ‘an extraordinary opportunity for the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection to be sold and the revenue used to support the important institutions that they supported in their lifetimes.’ Image courtesy of Christie’s New York/Arthur Lavine/Rockefeller Estate.

Although these auction highlights don’t exactly inspire dreams of finding a Rockefeller steal or deal, fear not! Christie’s will be offering treasures from porcelains to jewels with bid estimates starting at just $200. You can begin placing bids on the historied Peggy and David Rockefeller collection next spring with live auctions taking place at Christie’s Rockefeller Center Galleries or online. Get your paddles ready, dears, it’s all for a good cause!

In Art on
August 9, 2017

Muffy the Curator: Punchy Hued Edition

Hello dears! Today I’m sharing some fabulous fine art pieces worth pining over. Collectively, they run the gamut in medium, genre, price point and even the century they were painted in. Something for every wall, non? I’ve had bright colors on the brain so it’s no surprise these picks are big on the bold factor. See something you like? All of them are available for sale!


Paul Brown, Goal Miles- 1st Period, 3rd Game, colored pencil over paper, heightened with white, 10″ x 10.5″ 1928.

A special piece from late equestrian artist Paul Desmond Brown’s smashing series International Polo Argentina vs. USA (Copa de las Americas). All the works in this series are teeming with excited energy and have a well manipulated palette. I am especially drawn to this one, available from Chisholm Gallery here.


Susan Vecsey, Untitled (Orange/Pink/Gold), oil on linen, 38″ x 30″ 2016.

The investment abstract! A soothing composition that you could stare at all day from artist Susan Vecsey. All her pieces are soft but extra striking; the perfect combination in my book. You can see her work in person at the Sag Harbor Library through September 4th or catch her solo show in Jackson Hole, Wyoming hanging at Tayloe Piggott Gallery through September 30th. (Estimating by another piece of hers that’s similar size wise, this particular work is most likely around $16,000) Care to know more about Untitled? It is available on 1st Dibs through Berry Campbell Gallery.


Mary Rountree Moore, Time for Fun! oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″ $6,800

The title of this next work says it all, it’s just so fun! Vacillating between the realism of a landscape and the deconstructed nature of an abstract, this colorful beauty is exquisitely eye-catching. You can find this Moore majesty at Blue Print in Dallas, I’m so impressed with their roster of artists.


Jen Garrido, CS Study-2, mixed media on paper, 13″ x 12″ $360 2017

It was love at first sight when I spotted a Jen Garrido abstract while browsing through Pinterest one evening. I immediately went to her website and was pleased to see she had a bevy of her geometric yet fluid works on paper for sale. If you’re looking for a large scale work for a space but don’t have thousands to plunk down for a big canvas, consider a series of works on paper. A grouping of four or six with fabulous frames can have just as big an impact visually.


Mike Ludlow, Only Ballantine Ale Brews “Brewers Gold,” ad illustration, gouache on board, 20″ x 17.5″ ca. 1957

Adding a touch of history to your home with an older work is so charming. This grown-up Norman Rockwell meets Pop Art piece would be perfect over a bar and can be counted on to be quite the conversation starter. It is available on ArtNet via Robert Funk Fine Art, price upon request.


Gina Julian, Sunshine Dust I, acrylic on acid-free paper, 17″ x 22″ $75

There’s something so gleefully modern about Gina Julian’s artwork. I’ve been a fan for a couple of years and I’m just smitten with her larger op-art pieces. Bring the sunshine in with a couple of these superbly priced works on paper flanking a set of nightstands or add this lone lovely to your gallery wall. Snap it up here while you can!


Shara Hughes, Leaky Toilet, oil on canvas, 56″ x 70″ estimated at $8,000-12,000 2005.

If you’re looking for funky, bold and different, this Shara Hughes work delivers! Featured on the cover of the Christie’s First Open auction catalog, I’m sure it has sold but I can’t confirm. The First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art sale is Christie’s answer to burgeoning fine art collectors looking for investment works that are tangible. The sale mixes “affordable” contemporary pieces curated with Post-War work from the biggest names in art. 


Kelley Ogburn, Figure VI, mixed media on paper, 10″ x 7″ $300

A good figure is hard to come by, pun intended! You don’t need to cut out carbs to have a magnificent one looking back at you everyday, just hang this one in your powder room. Kelley Ogburn’s works are a total treat, see for yourself here. I really enjoy her mix of mediums and strong compositions; her figures are a sight to behold in person.

Thanks for indulging my punchy hued art round-up! I’ll be donning my Muffy Curator hat more often so if there’s anything in particular you’ve been searching for, let me know.