Objects from the Gerald and Sara Murphy Papers

October 22, 2020

By Nancy Kuhl

American expatriates Sara and Gerald Murphy lived in Paris and traveled widely in Europe with their three children throughout the 1920s. Their holiday home in Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera, known as the Villa America, was a gathering place for their vibrant circle of friends, which included Ernest Hemingway, Cole and Linda Porter, Pablo and Olga Picasso, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

The archive of Gerald and Sara Murphy includes a surprising array of objects–jewelry, keepsakes, household items, and more. These unusual archival materials document and illuminate aspects of the Murphy’s lives, relationships, and creativity. In his brief but important career as a painter, Gerald Murphy made extraordinary still life paintings of the kinds of objects that can be found in the papers, including pocketwatches (Watch, 1925) and cocktail making utensils (Cocktail, 1927). Gerald Murphy’s family founded the luxury goods firm Mark Cross Company; when the Murphy returned to U.S. in the 1930s, Gerald served as of President at the company.

Sara was a renowned beauty and a style icon of her time. She made an indelible impression on those who encountered her—including Picasso who painted her at least five times. Sara inspired the character Nicole Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night; the novelist’s enduring vision of Sara includes a now-famous description in which he noted her habit of wearing pearls to the beach: “Her bathing suit was pulled off her shoulders and her back, a ruddy, orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls, shone in the sun. Her face was hard and lovely and pitiful.”

The Murphys were celebrated for their generous hospitality and their fabulous parties; writer Donald Ogden Stewart wrote of the couple: “they had the gift of making life enchantingly pleasurable for those who were fortunate enough to be their friends.”

Collection guide to the Gerald and Sara Murphy Papers YCAL MSS 468

Materials from the Gerald and Sara Murphy Papers in the Beinecke’s Digital Library

Other paintngs by Gerald Murphy: Razor, 1924; Bibliothèqu, 1926; Wasp and Pear, 1929

Film: Objects from the Gerald and Sara Murphy Papers (YCAL MSS 468 Box 78 & YCAL MSS 468 Box 81), selected and arranged by Nancy Kuhl, filmed by Tubyez Cropper 

Creativity 2020: Teaching, Learning, Research

As ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic limit access to our reading room and classrooms, Beinecke Library is exploring new ways to expose our collections to students, researchers, and interested readers; the film “Objects from the Gerald and Sara Murphy Papers” was created in support of Professor Karin Roffman’s undergraduate Poetry and Objects class (and the companion version of the class offered in Fall 2020 by Yale Pathways to Arts and Humanities).