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Making It New:

The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy

Review by Michael S. Gant


In the 1920s, Gerald and Sara Murphy moved to Paris and anchored an artistic circle that encompassed Picasso, Cocteau, Hemingway, Dos Passos and more. Most famously, the Murphys, with their casual wealth and stylish parties, served as the molds for glamorous American couple Dick and Nicole Diver in Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night. As editor Deborah Rothschild notes in Making It New, the Murphys "expended great effort, although it never seemed forced or calculated, to make each moment original and meaningful." This illustrated tribute evokes the lost fizz of the 1920s, although at times the cavorting can seem precious and shallow (as it did to Hemingway later in A Moveable Feast). But Making It New also exposes a real core of artistic talent. Gerald Murphy was a sensational painter, although he finished only a handful of canvases. His cool, pre-Pop Cubist works often feature simple yet fraught objects—a razor, a matchbox, a wasp feasting on a pear—blown up to immense proportions. Cocktail (1927) is a precisionist ode to the accoutrements of the good life: a martini glass, a cocktail shaker, a cigar box. But those kissed by the gods are later cast from paradise. In the 1929, one of the Murphys' sons came down with tuberculosis, lingering seven painful years before dying; adding to the torment, their other, seemingly healthy, son, died of spinal meningitis. The Murphys moved back the States, and Gerald, sealing up his past, never painted again, a real loss judging from the full-page reproductions here. (Edited by Deborah Rothschild; UC Press; 237 pages; $60 cloth/$34.95 paper)


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