I’m always captivated by people who incorporate grace and style in their every action, and two people who certainly took that to the next level were Sara and Gerald Murphy. Their lives, in Europe especially, were lived on a grand scale, but their attention to detail was what made the way they lived truly magical. They really did live a beautiful life.
Gerald Murphy was a scion of the family that brought us Mark Cross. Sara Wiborg was the daughter of self-made millionaire Frank Bestow Wiborg and his wife, Adeline Sherman. The Murphys met as adolescents in East Hampton, where Sara’s family had their house, “The Dunes.” They became engaged in 1915, when Sara was 32 and Gerald was 27.
Sara with Baoth, Patrick, and Honoria (via)
After their marriage and the birth of their three children (Baoth, Patrick, and Honoria), the Murphys relocated to Paris, away from familial disapproval of their union. Gerald began painting in Paris and the two Murphys soon formed the nucleus of the social circle for which they would become famous. They invented the “summer season” on the French Riviera, later relocating there, to the Villa America in Cap d’Antibes. At this time, their large circle of friends included the Fitzgeralds, Pablo Picasso, Archibald MacLeish, Ernest Hemingway, and Jean Cocteau, among others. They entertained these friends on “their” beach, La Garoupe, and inspired the Cap d’Antibes “uniform”–striped sailor jersey, espadrilles and knitted fisherman’s cap.
Gerald and Sara at La Garoupe, 1926 (via).
Gerald and Pablo Picasso, La Garoupe, July 1923.
Ada MacLeish (under the umbrella) and Sara with her famous pearls, La Garoupe, 1924 (via)
Gerald and Sara inspired their friends–F. Scott Fitzgerald dedicated Tender is the Night to them (“To Gerald and Sara–many fêtes”), telling the Murphys “[Tender is the Night] was inspired by Sara and you, and the way I feel about you both, and the last of it is Zelda and me because you and Sara are the same people as Zelda and me.” Ernest Hemingway wrote characters inspired by Gerald and Sara in The Garden of Eden.
Cocktail, 1927 (Whitney Museum of American Art)
The Murphys weren’t simply muses for the artistic community they gathered about them; Gerald was also an artist, though he painted only fourteen works. He set aside his paintbrushes for good when his son, Patrick, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Patrick died in 1937, after years spent in a sanitarium in Switzerland, two years after his brother, Baoth, died of spinal meningitis. Honoria, their only daughter, was their only child left, and they sold the Villa America and went back to New York, where Gerald became chairman of Mark Cross.
The Murphys never publicly spoke about their lost sons, nor did they speak about Gerald’s painting. Gerald immersed himself in the life of a businessman, while Sara began volunteer work with children. They moved into The Dunes, though the large, 30 room mansion was demolished after they could not find a buyer. They renovated the dairy barn, named it “Swan Cove”, and lived there. They also built “the Little Hut” next to Swan Cove, later renovated and renamed “The Pink House” by their daughter Honoria, used by her and her children for their holidays.
Gerald died in the Little Hut in 1964; Sara died Arlington, Virginia, in 1975.
The Murphys were far more than those who “lived well”–they were inspirations for an entire artistic generation. Today, they still capture the imagination through novels, biographies, and photographs. I highly recommend the following books and articles: Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story, Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy, Living Well Is the Best Revenge (Modern Library), A South Fork Story, The Magical Murphys (unless otherwise noted, all photographs from here), What a Swell Party it Was, and Expats in Wonderland. There is also a fantastic historical novel based on their lives called Villa America, by Liza Klaussmann, which was completely captivating and certainly a book to enjoy re-reading.