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Sergeant Murphy & Things
Item Details
Description

Sir William Orpen (Irish, 1878-1931) Sergeant Murphy & Things

SERGEANT MURPHY & THINGS

Oil on canvas, 29 1/2" x 40"

Signed

Provenance:

Artist's Studio Book record for 1923: Sergeant Murphy sold to 1st Baron Dewar €500 Viscountess Ward of Witley, her sale; Christie's London 14 July 1967, lot 89 (750gns. to Roussack) E.J. Roussack, NY, his sale; Sotheby's London, 18 July 1973, lot 52 (illustrated) Anon. sale; Christie's NY, 8 June 1984 lot 301 (illustrated) Anon. sale, Christie's NY, 30 May 2002, lot 108 (illustrated)

Sir William Orpen had a friendly rivalry with Sir Alfred Munnings, who was widely considered the best sporting artist of the 20th century. While the two were stationed in France as war artists during World War I, they found themselves both painting at the Canadian Cavalry Headquarters. Munnings, who was painting a portrait of Prince Antoine of Bourbon on horseback, ran out of sable brushes. He found Orpen and asked him three questions: if he had a car (which he did); if he had any sable brushes; and if so, would he mind lending Munnings some brushes? Orpen kindly handed Munnings all of his sable brushes. The next day Orpen asked Munnings for the brushes back. Munnings quickly reminded him of the first question about the car and told Orpen he could "damn well drive to Paris and get some more." (Orpen, An Onlooker in France, p. 66)

The rivalry between the two great artists perhaps reached its conclusion in this painting – quite impressively Orpen's first attempt at a horse portrait. It is often said that this work was an endeavor to prove that Orpen could paint a horse portrait that would rival those of Munnings. Orpen, after all was one of the most fashionable portrait painters – a "prodigy from Dublin" who had taken London society by storm. Munnings was equally as fashionable but had the advantage of a reputation as a painter of horses and men. Sergeant Murphy was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1924 and, unsurprisingly, was compared with Munnings' works in the same show. Munnings remembers reading a review of the show "about Orpen's picture of Sergeant Murphy saying that the Irishman's picture was better than mine of the grey horse...that my horse's head was too small." (Munnings, The Second Burst, p. 153). Many elements within Orpen's painting of Sergeant Murphy are, in fact, borrowed motifs from Munnings' oeuvre. The oak tree is a notable example as several of Munnings' patrons went so far as to request oak trees in their commissioned paintings. Chris Pearson, a scholar of Orpen, even suggests that the man leaning against the oak tree in Sergeant Murphy & Things is Munnings himself – a tongue-in-cheek nod to Munnings' reputation as the top horse painter of the day.

Munnings was commissioned to paint Sergeant Murphy after he won the Grand National. It is unclear if Orpen was ever commissioned by the horse's owner, "Laddie" Sanford – his record books indicate that it was first purchased by Lord Dewar (of whiskey fame) in 1923, prior to its initial exhibition at the 1924 Royal Academy exhibition. That it was not purchased by Mr. Sanford leads to the speculation that Orpen painted Sergeant Murphy & Things as a challenge to Munnings.

Sergeant Murphy was a chestnut gelding by General Symons out of Rose Craft, bred in Ireland by G. L. Walker in 1910. By the time he died at 16, he was the veteran of an impressive seven Grand Nationals. When he won the Grand National in 1923, he was owned by the American Stephen "Laddie" Sanford, who had purchased him while an undergraduate at Cambridge to use as a foxhunter. The 1923 Grand National had a field of 28 starters. Six horses completed the formidable course. It was the first Grand National ever won by an American owner.

Exhibitions:

London, Royal Academy, 1924, no. 655 as "Sergeant Murphy & Things" Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 54th Autumn Exhibition, 1926, no. 158 London, Royal Academy, Commemorative Exhibition of Works by Late Members, 1933, no. 88 Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, Orpen Centenary Exhibition, 1978, no. 124

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Sergeant Murphy & Things

Estimate $350,000 - $450,000
Nov 21, 2016
See Sold Price
Starting Price $175,000
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Ships from Lexington, KY, United States
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The Sporting Art Auction

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0112: Sergeant Murphy & Things

Sold for $220,000
6 Bids
Est. $350,000 - $450,000Starting Price $175,000
2016 Sporting Art Auction at Keeneland
Nov 21, 2016 4:00 PM EST
Buyer's Premium 18%

Lot 0112 Details

Description
...

Sir William Orpen (Irish, 1878-1931) Sergeant Murphy & Things

SERGEANT MURPHY & THINGS

Oil on canvas, 29 1/2" x 40"

Signed

Provenance:

Artist's Studio Book record for 1923: Sergeant Murphy sold to 1st Baron Dewar €500 Viscountess Ward of Witley, her sale; Christie's London 14 July 1967, lot 89 (750gns. to Roussack) E.J. Roussack, NY, his sale; Sotheby's London, 18 July 1973, lot 52 (illustrated) Anon. sale; Christie's NY, 8 June 1984 lot 301 (illustrated) Anon. sale, Christie's NY, 30 May 2002, lot 108 (illustrated)

Sir William Orpen had a friendly rivalry with Sir Alfred Munnings, who was widely considered the best sporting artist of the 20th century. While the two were stationed in France as war artists during World War I, they found themselves both painting at the Canadian Cavalry Headquarters. Munnings, who was painting a portrait of Prince Antoine of Bourbon on horseback, ran out of sable brushes. He found Orpen and asked him three questions: if he had a car (which he did); if he had any sable brushes; and if so, would he mind lending Munnings some brushes? Orpen kindly handed Munnings all of his sable brushes. The next day Orpen asked Munnings for the brushes back. Munnings quickly reminded him of the first question about the car and told Orpen he could "damn well drive to Paris and get some more." (Orpen, An Onlooker in France, p. 66)

The rivalry between the two great artists perhaps reached its conclusion in this painting – quite impressively Orpen's first attempt at a horse portrait. It is often said that this work was an endeavor to prove that Orpen could paint a horse portrait that would rival those of Munnings. Orpen, after all was one of the most fashionable portrait painters – a "prodigy from Dublin" who had taken London society by storm. Munnings was equally as fashionable but had the advantage of a reputation as a painter of horses and men. Sergeant Murphy was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1924 and, unsurprisingly, was compared with Munnings' works in the same show. Munnings remembers reading a review of the show "about Orpen's picture of Sergeant Murphy saying that the Irishman's picture was better than mine of the grey horse...that my horse's head was too small." (Munnings, The Second Burst, p. 153). Many elements within Orpen's painting of Sergeant Murphy are, in fact, borrowed motifs from Munnings' oeuvre. The oak tree is a notable example as several of Munnings' patrons went so far as to request oak trees in their commissioned paintings. Chris Pearson, a scholar of Orpen, even suggests that the man leaning against the oak tree in Sergeant Murphy & Things is Munnings himself – a tongue-in-cheek nod to Munnings' reputation as the top horse painter of the day.

Munnings was commissioned to paint Sergeant Murphy after he won the Grand National. It is unclear if Orpen was ever commissioned by the horse's owner, "Laddie" Sanford – his record books indicate that it was first purchased by Lord Dewar (of whiskey fame) in 1923, prior to its initial exhibition at the 1924 Royal Academy exhibition. That it was not purchased by Mr. Sanford leads to the speculation that Orpen painted Sergeant Murphy & Things as a challenge to Munnings.

Sergeant Murphy was a chestnut gelding by General Symons out of Rose Craft, bred in Ireland by G. L. Walker in 1910. By the time he died at 16, he was the veteran of an impressive seven Grand Nationals. When he won the Grand National in 1923, he was owned by the American Stephen "Laddie" Sanford, who had purchased him while an undergraduate at Cambridge to use as a foxhunter. The 1923 Grand National had a field of 28 starters. Six horses completed the formidable course. It was the first Grand National ever won by an American owner.

Exhibitions:

London, Royal Academy, 1924, no. 655 as "Sergeant Murphy & Things" Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 54th Autumn Exhibition, 1926, no. 158 London, Royal Academy, Commemorative Exhibition of Works by Late Members, 1933, no. 88 Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, Orpen Centenary Exhibition, 1978, no. 124

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