Gerald Murphy ( American, 1888 - 1964 )

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General Description

In March of 1925, two years after he began making art, Gerald Murphy exhibited Watch at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. Watch is both personally symbolic and coolly analytical. In a letter, Murphy wrote that he was "always struck by the mystery and depth of the interiors of a watch—its multiplicity, variety, and feeling of movement, and man's grasp at perpetuity." Beginning with a linear study on graph paper, the artist visually exploded and pieced together two timepieces with specific biographical associations. One was a railroad watch designed for his family’s company, Mark Cross. The other was a gold pocket watch given to him by his wife Sara.

The heroic scale of Murphy’s painting reflects his fascination with modern machinery’s complexity and efficiency. The huge canvas is filled with overlapping, interlocking forms representing gears, dials, wheels, hands, winders, and screws in metallic and vivid colors. Its palette enhances the visual tension, as vibrant shades of orange and yellow share boundaries with a range of cooler blues and grays.

In fragmenting the timepieces and incorporating multiple points of view, Watch testifies to the ever-changing nature of time itself. It also evokes the cubist practice of representing the dynamic act of seeing through a seemingly arbitrary collection of visual data from various perspectives.

Adapted from

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA Label copy (1963.75.FA), August 2005.
  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, "Gerald Murphy, Watch," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 251.
  • "Gerald Murphy, Watch," DMA Connect, Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.

Related Multimedia

Blithe Spirits: songs, art, poetry, and letters celebrating the legacy of Sarah and Gerald Murphy; Southeastern Festival of Song
Blithe Spirits: songs, art, poetry, and letters celebrating the legacy of Sarah and Gerald Murphy; Southeastern Festival of Song
Liza Klaussmann's "Villa America," a dazzling novel set in the French Riviera in the 1920s, is based on the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy - the real-life inspirations for F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night." Klaussmann does for Sara and Gerald Murphy what Paula McLain and Michael Cunningham did for Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf in "The Paris Wife" and "The Hours." The Murphys' house, Villa America, was the site of legendary parties, the hub of an illustrious social circle, including Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, and many others. This is a stunning story about the Lost Generation, a marriage, secrets, and a golden age that could not last. While writing "Villa America," Klaussmann says that she was "preoccupied . . . with the idea of exile - imposed, self-imposed, imaginary."

Fun Facts

  • Although Watch is an impressively sizable painting (over 7 feet on each side), it is not Gerald Murphy's largest work. That title belongs to Boatdeck (18 x 12 feet, location unknown), which shocked viewers at the 1924 Salon des Indépendants.

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