Gerald Murphy ( American, 1888 - 1964 )

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General Description

Gerald Murphy’s Razor presents a still life of consumer products one might associate with the modern American man of the 1920s: a safety razor, a fountain pen, and a matchbox. The bold, simplified forms showcase his training in mechanical drawing, as well as an interest in the flattened space of cubist painting. Murphy incorporated cubist elements by representing the subjects of his still life as planar, geometric shapes existing in a two-dimensional space.

Murphy often recorded ideas in a notebook, waiting for his thoughts to crystallize before beginning a painting. His entry for Razor reads: "Picture: razor, fountain pen; etc. in large scale nature morte big match box." In the painting Murphy paired a fountain pen and a safety razor (both recent American inventions), crossed in heraldic fashion, in front of a matchbox cover. Although Murphy declared a lack of interest in modern advertising art, Razor's dependence on graphic design principles is clear. His vision may stem, however, from his passion for folk art, notably trade signs that pictured items for sale. Murphy appreciated their bold designs and strong colors. Razor is, in this sense, a thoroughly modern update of an earlier American advertising idiom.

In addition to traditional signage, the large scale of the objects and the bold graphics recall billboard advertisements on roadsides and tall buildings. Many artists responded to the new consumerist culture of the 1920s; Murphy embraced it by combining the commercial and fine arts. His depiction of consumer products—particularly the recently invented safety razor—precedes the later use of commercial imagery by pop artists of the 1960s.

Adapted from

  • Heather MacDonald, DMA Label copy (1963.74.FA), October 2009.

  • "Gerald Murphy, Razor," DMA Connect, Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.

  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, "Gerald Murphy, Razor," iin Dallas Museum of Art 100 Years, eds. Dorothy Kosinski, et al. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), 250.

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