Gerald Clery Murphy (1888 – 1964) and his wife, Sara Sherman Wiborg were wealthy, expatriate Americans who moved to the French Riviera in the early 20th century and who, with their generous hospitality and flair for parties, created a vibrant social circle, particularly in the 1920s, that included a great number of artists and writers including Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Fernand Léger, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Archibald MacLeish, John O’Hara, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.
While Murphy only painted from 1921 until 1929; he is known for his hard-edged still life paintings in a Precisionist, Cubist style. During the 1920s Gerald Murphy, along with other American modernist painters in Europe, notably Charles Demuth and Stuart Davis created paintings prefiguring the pop art movement that contained pop culture imagery, such as mundane objects culled from American commercial products and advertising design.
During his short career as an artist, Gerald Murphy produced only about fourteen paintings. Key among them is Cocktail, a bold, stylized still life comprised of flattened geometric shapes, overlapping forms, and spatially illogical juxtapositions. A poignant memento of the urban, sophisticated lifestyle of the Jazz Age, the painting’s formal qualities are reminiscent of French Cubism as well as the industrial aesthetic of the American Precisionists. Yet Cocktail is also distinguished by its uniquely autobiographical approach.
The depicted accoutrements of a typical 1920s bar tray were based on Murphy’s memory of his father’s bar accessories, and the five cigars represent the artist, his wife, and their three children. The illusionistic depiction of the box cover, which alone took four months to complete, shows a robed woman surrounded by items that allude to Murphy himself, including a pontoon boat (he was an avid sailor) and an artist’s palette. By celebrating a ritual that was forbidden during Prohibition in America, but which became a distinctive feature of European life during the 1920s, the painting also affirms Murphy’s status as a stylish and worldly expatriate.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC.