Narrator: Wanda Corn is an art historian and author of the book The Great American Thing. Here, she discusses Gerald Murphy’s painting, titled Cocktail.
Wanda Corn: You’re looking at a canvas which displays the elements of Gerald Murphy’s own cocktail tray in his home in France. He was famous for his cocktails. In fact, one of his American friends, Phillip Berry, said that he mixed drinks like a priest preparing Mass.
The style of the picture is very characteristic of Murphy. And though we call it a Cubist painting, we’d have to say that there’s also certain characteristics about it that are very definitely Murphy’s own individual style. Murphy was very proud that Picasso was said to have said once, “He paints in a very Amurrican style.”
We forget, but Americans were in vogue in Paris in the 1920s, and Murphy capitalized on that. He really felt as if he could introduce the French to some of the most wonderful and inventive aspects of American life. Murphy was rather famous for his dinner parties and his entertainments at those parties. There was, of course, the entertainment of the cocktail making. But, after dinner, it would not be unusual for the children to do dances such as the Charleston, for the entire family to sing Negro spirituals, and it was possible to actually go there for a summer meal and have corn on the cob and fresh tomatoes, which were thought to be quite odd and très américain at that time.