Gerald Murphy. Wasp and Pear. 1929 553

Oil on canvas, 36 3/4 x 38 5/8" (93.3 x 97.9 cm). Gift of Archibald MacLeish

Laura Hoptman: Gerald Murphy painted only around a dozen pictures over a really short period of time, from around 1927 to 1929. And all those pictures were inspired by Cubist works, by Picasso, Juan Gris, and Léger. These were his friends, and he followed their progress as artists. He lived with his wife Sara in Antibes, in the south of France, in the 1920s. And they entertained a really glittering coterie of artists, composers, writers; like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the composer Igor Stravinsky. He's gone down in history more as a master of the art of living, a bon vivant, than he has as an artist. Although, during the period of time that he made these paintings, they were much admired.

The composition of this picture, Wasp And Pear, exhibits a really thorough understanding of the simultaneity of Cubism. You can see that kind of layering and the interest in looking at objects from many different points of view. The pear in the painting, in fact, can be seen from the front and also from the inside. What makes it different, though, from earlier Cubist works by artists like Pablo Picasso, is this sharp, clean graphic line. Murphy adopted the flat planes of Cubism but sharpened them so that the objects in the paintings have a real clarity, kind of a graphic nature, which reminds you not only of illustrations, but of advertising. The work itself, though, according to Murphy, was inspired by educational illustrations—the kind of thing that you see in an elementary school classroom, pinned up above a blackboard.

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