Murray, Charles Fairfax

Date born: 1849

Place born: Bow, a village near London, United Kingdom

Date died: 1919

Place died: London, United Kingdom

Connoisseur and advisor to major art collections, painter and art dealer. Murray's parents were James Dalton Murray (18081876), a linen-draper, and Elizabeth Scott (Draper) (18161853). He grew up in Sudbury, Suffolk. By age 13 he had already received art lessons, possibly from Richard Gainsborough Dupont, and had moved to London. Murray worked as an apprentice in the drawing office of Sir Samuel Morton Peto, the great Victorian railway builder. In 1866 Murray attracted the attention of John Ruskin (q.v.) who arranged for additional training as an assistant to the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. Murray also painted for William Morris and copied paintings for Rossetti. In 1871 he went to Italy to paint and to study, returning again in 1873 to copy the Botticelli frescos in the Sistine Chapel for Ruskin. There, in 1875, he married Angelica Collevichi, a sixteen-year old local Italian girl, settling in Florence. In Italy he was an agent for Sir Frederick Burton (q.v.), the director of the National Gallery in London, selling him among other works Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Poor Clares in 1878. As a dealer and facilitator of deals, his clientele grew to include the Berlin museum director Wilhelm von Bode (q.v.) and the British collectors Charles Butler (1822-1910), George Salting (1835-1909) and Robert Henry Benson (1850-1929). In 1886 Fairfax Murray, his reputation now as much a dealer and connoisseur as a portraitist, returned to London, though wife elected to remain in Italy for most of her time. He formed a liaison with a local woman, Blanche Richmond, fathering children by both her and his wife in 1888. Fairfax Murray had five more children by Richmond. After a period advising for Agnew's, he became a partner. In 1891 he cataloged the collection for the Duke of Portland, one of the few books on art he would write, along with the 1893 catalog the Roscoe collection in Liverpool. His 1894 bid for the director position of the National Gallery was rejected in favor of Edward Poynter (q.v.), Burne-Jones's brother-in-law. After retiring from painting in 1903 and selling his personal collections of works by his friends Rossetti, Madox Brown, Millais, Sandys and Burne-Jones, he compiled a collection of early books and illuminated manuscripts. In1908 he recommended his friend Sydney Cockerell to the Directorship of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The following year he sold his personal collection of 1400 Old Master drawings J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913). He donated 46 paintings to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1911. Murray returned to Italy in 1914 with his early book collection. He suffered a series of strokes, the latter, in 1916 paralyzing him for almost six months. He returned to London in early 1919 to complete his will, and died there.

Fairfax Murray was a great influence in the art market, advising to numerous private and public collections in Europe and the United States. Lockett Agnew described him as "the finest judge of art in the world." He formed part of the British art historians lobbying against overpainting of Italian monuments in Venice and Siena. Edward Hutton claimed that during the late nineteenth century, Reniassance treasures were so plentiful that Murray would park himself on a cafe bench, and, pounding the bench with a stick, shout, "Bring out your Madonnas! Two hundred lire!"

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources: Elliott, David B. Charles Fairfax Murray: the Unknown Pre-Raphaelite. Lewes, Sussex: Book Guild, Ltd., 2000; Charles Fairfax Murray (website), http://www.fairfaxmurray.co.uk; Hutton, Edward. "F. Mason Perkins." Burlington Magazine 97 (December 1955): 391; Elliott, David B. "Charles Fairfax Murray: Keeper of the Pre-Raphaelite Flame." in, Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum. Alexandria, VA: Art Services, 2004, pp. 42-51.

Bibliography: Catalogue of the Pictures Belonging to the Duke of Portland, at Welbeck Abbey, and in London. London: The Chiswick Press, 1894.