John Francis Murphy 1853–1921
John Francis Murphy is recognized today as one of the leading American Tonalist painters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Over his productive career, he developed a highly individual aesthetic that was notable for its expressive and poetic nuance. His art attracted a wide following, and was avidly collected by individuals and museums both during his lifetime and in the period following his death.
Murphy was born in Oswego, New York. In 1868 he and his family moved to Chicago. Murphy was a self-taught artist, his only training consisted of a few classes at the Chicago Academy of Design, where he became friends with Emil Carlsen and Theodore Robinson.
John Francis Murphy moved to New York in 1875. While he managed to sell an occasional picture, he supported himself primarily through illustration work. He joined the Salmagundi Club in 1878 and began to exhibit more widely. By the late 1880s, Murphy had adopted a less descriptive and more suggestive style of painting that placed greater emphasis upon his emotional response to nature rather than simply delineating its visible forms. He was inspired by Tonalist painters Alexander Wyant and George Inness, and he became friends with important artists such as Elihu Vedder, George Fuller, and Albert Pinkham Ryder.
In 1886, Murphy and his wife took their first of many trips to Europe. They toured France and lived in Montigny for six months. After returning to America, they purchased land in Arkville in the Catskill Mountains and built a house and studio. During the next three decades, Murphy split his time between Arkville and New York. In his final years, Murphy achieved his greatest commercial success, with dealers and collectors.
Murphy was awarded many accolades during his lifetime, including the Hallgarten Prize (National Academy of Design), the Gold Medal of Honor (American Art Association), the Webb Prize (Society of American Artists), the William T. Evans Prize (American Water Color Society), the Gold Medal (Philadelphia Art Club), and the George Inness Medal (National Academy of Design), to name a few.