Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919)
Charles Fairfax Murray was born in London in 1849. The son of a draper, he was noted for his fine drawing skills while still young. Initially employed as a technical draughtsman, Fairfax Murray asked the art critic John Ruskin for support and subsequently entered the studio of Edward Burne-Jones as a studio assistant. In 1867 he exhibited at the Royal Academy and soon after began to work for William Morris. Employed as a workshop assistant, Fairfax Murray transferred designs onto stained glass, executed miniature illustrations for Morris’s poems and painted panels onto furniture. In 1869-70 he worked for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, both as a proof-reader and workshop assistant. The next year Fairfax Murray accompanied Morris to Bruges and in 1871-72 he travelled in Italy. His copies of the Camposanto frescos in Pisa impressed both Burne-Jones and Ruskin and the latter subsequently employed Fairfax Murray as a copyist for several years. The assignment took Fairfax Murray back to Italy and in 1875 he married Angelica Albina Collevicchi (d. c. 1927), a seventeen-year-old from Volterra. They settled in Florence in 1878, where Fairfax Murray became increasingly active as a collector and dealer and where they were to have six surviving children.
Following the end of his collaboration with Ruskin in 1883, Fairfax Murray started to periodically return to London. In 1886 he took a studio in Holland Park and started to paint again, mainly copies after Rossetti and works in the late Pre-Raphaelite style. He also resumed contact with Burne-Jones and Morris and associated with such eminent figures as Herbert Horne, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. Further Fairfax Murray started to act as adviser and agent for the art dealers Agnew’s and Colnaghi and for the Fitzwilliam Museum, the National Gallery and the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum). He was also instrumental in helping establish a number of important American collections, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Fog Art Museum at Harvard University. Finally, in 1888, Fairfax Murray met Blanche Richmond (d. 1952), another reason to stay in London and the mother of his six later children.
Divided between Florence and London, Fairfax Murray sold most of his personal collection during his lifetime: his Pre-Raphaelite paintings to the Birmingham City Museum in 1903-06 and his Italian Renaissance drawings to John Pierpont Morgan in 1907-11. But he was also a most generous donor: amongst other items, he gave Titian’s Tarquin and Lucretia and a rare aquamanile to the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Charles Fairfax Murray died at his home in Middlesex in 1919.
Charles Fairfax Murray’s The flaming heart, a copy of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Helen of Troy, now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, entered the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1933. First on loan, Charles Haslewood Shannon bequeathed the painting to the museum in 1937.
J. Codell, ‘Charles Fairfax Murray and the Pre-Raphaelite ‘Academy’: Writing and Forging the Artistic Field’ in M. F. Watson, Collecting the Pre-Raphaelites: The Anglo-American Enchantment, Ashgate, 1997
J. Codell, ‘Charles Fairfax Murray’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8
D. Elliott, Charles Fairfax Murray: The Unknown Pre-Raphaelite, Book Guild, 2000
P. Tucker, ‘Responsible Outsider – Charles Fairfax Murray and the South Kensington Museum’, Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 14, 2002, pp. 115-137
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