Born to a family of Savannah, Georgia, artists, Christopher Aristide Desbouillons Murphy was a pivotal twentieth century figure—as a painter, etcher, and arts advocate—in his hometown’s rich cultural narrative. The eldest of seven children born to Christopher Patrick Hussey Murphy (1869-1939) and Lucile Desbouillons Murphy (1873-1956), both recognized and respected artists in the community, he displayed an early interest in art and began formal lessons at a young age. In 1918, visiting artist Hardesty Gilmore Maratta provided Murphy with instruction that emphasized Maratta’s innovative color theories which combined art and musical chords to produce “harmonized” color within compositions.
Upon graduating from a private Catholic high school, Christopher Murphy, Jr.—as he was commonly known—enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City in 1921. There, his teachers in drawing, painting, and etching included George Bridgman, Frank Vincent DuMond, Henry R. Rittenberg, and Joseph Pennell. An architecture course with Lloyd Warren, director of the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, rounded out his training. Murphy received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation fellowship in 1925. Between 1925 and 1930, Murphy divided his time between the Art Students League and classes in Savannah; he also found work as a commercial artist in New York, employment where his expertise in etching proved especially useful. Throughout this period, his ongoing studies were supplemented with private instruction from visiting artists in Savannah such as Hilda Belcher, Adolphe Blondheim, William Chadwick, and Eliot Clark.
Murphy’s liberal education prepared him for work in a variety of mediums—watercolor, gouache, etching and drypoint, and oil—and his choice of subject matter was equally diverse, including portraits, landscapes of gardens and marshes, cityscapes, architectural studies, and marine scenes. He found inspiration in both the grander scenic parts of his historic hometown, as well as humbler locales within the city and beyond; throughout his life, he was drawn to water and consistently captured the area’s various waterways in his work. In describing his approach to painting, Murphy said that he “chose to depict the subject without swamping it with technical mannerisms—to convey clearly the innate interest of the subject to the beholder in a pleasurable form.” Murphy exhibited extensively during his career at notable venues, including the National Academy of Design, Art Institute of Chicago, New York Watercolor Club, American Watercolor Society, Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Whitney Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Southern States Art League, where he was recognized in 1927 and 1931 for works on paper.
By 1931, the economic hardships brought on by the Great Depression tethered Murphy to Savannah, a move that did not discourage the young artist who once wrote that “however big and wonderful New York may be, you can be sure that is does not compare with . . . Savannah.” Back at home, the artist continued to produce at a prolific rate, entered his work in important regional and national exhibitions, and began to teach at local institutions, including the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences and Armstrong Junior College. Murphy was a founding member of the Association of Georgia Artists and served as president of the Savannah Art Club. His technical expertise and affinity for the Southern scene were apparent in his art, culminating with a series of illustrations for Savannah, a book produced in collaboration with Walter C. Hartridge, a Savannah historian and leader in that city’s preservation movement. Murphy’s quintessential images of Savannah established the artist as a beloved native son of Georgia, and his work is heavily represented in Georgia museums, including the Telfair Museum of Art and Morris Museum of Art.