A Jazz Age Couple’s Hamptons Artifacts, Unearthed

Sara and Gerald Murphy inspired a galaxy of works by their friends, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Picasso.

Photo: Wendy Goodman
Photo: Wendy Goodman

Sara and Gerald Murphy were prominent Jazz Age figures — they inspired a galaxy of works by their friends, all based on their lives, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and Picasso’s Woman in White. Now, their life is the subject of a new show on view at the Clinton Academy, “Living Well Is the Best Revenge: A Jazz Age Fable of Sara & Gerald Murphy,” on view until October 10.

Richard Barons, executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, says that the new show was inspired by a gift to the group of nine antique file boxes. “They were full of family papers dealing with the running of their East Hampton mansion, the Dunes, during eight summers starting in 1912,” Barons says. The trove, donated by Laura Donnelly, the Murphys’ granddaughter, was found in the rafters of the garage at the Pink House — originally the chauffeur’s quarters of the Dunes estate. The dresses, hats, espadrilles, and baskets shown here belonged to Sara Murphy. Prop Stylist: Elizabeth Eichner. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The show is a collection of paintings, artifacts, and memorabilia including these monogrammed towels and espadrilles that belonged to Sara and are in perfect condition. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The Murphys, who moved to Paris in 1921, hosted their writer and artist friends at their house on Cap d’Antibes, Villa America, seen in the photo here. The villa was likely the first flat-roofed house on the Riviera — the flat roof providing a bird’s-eye view of the lush landscape and a place to sunbathe. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Sara, seen here with her children in the south of France in a photograph taken by Man Ray. The family moved back to New York City in 1932, and soon after their son Baoth died from meningitis, and their son Patrick died from tuberculosis. Gerald took up running the family leather-goods business, Mark Cross, which his father, Patrick Murphy, had established. Sarah’s father, Frank Wiborg, made his fortune starting a printing-ink company, Ault & Wiborg. He began buying property in East Hampton in 1900 and built the Dunes on his largest tract, 80 acres, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Hook Pond. The Dunes was torn down in 1941 and was said to have been the largest house in East Hampton at the time. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Laura Donnelly moved to the Pink House in 1995, a few years before her mother, Honoria Murphy Donnelly, passed in 1998. So many of the treasures featured in this show were in that house, including these beautiful faience eagles that, Laura says, “lived on the plate rack, on top, where they belonged. I was always in love with them so claimed them in the disbursement of stuff. I like their primitive look.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
The Wiborg summer house, the Dunes, with a view of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and here, the entrance facing inland to the 80 acres of gardens and farmlands going as far as Hook Pond. Sara and Gerald met here during the summer of 1904. They were married in 1915 and sailed for Europe, and their new life, in 1921. Photo: Courtesy of East Hampton Historical Society
Here, a map of the lots for sale when the Murphy family started disposing of property in the early 1950s. Lot 7, in East Dune Meadows, of 1.189 acres was listed at $4,500. Photo: Wendy Goodman
One of the show’s treasures, a portrait of Honoria Donnelly, painted by artist Luis Quintanilla, who was a friend of Ernest Hemingway. “My mother never liked this painting, and she sold it in 1995,” Laura recalls. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Sara and Gerald were famous for their entertaining and hospitality, and here are Sara’s handwritten family recipes, which she kept in this notebook. Her recipes are used by Laura, now a pastry chef and the food editor of the East Hampton Star and its recently launched magazine, East. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Swan Cove, the old dairy barn on the Wiborg property, was converted into Sara and Gerald’s home in 1938, and the house and property were filled with Gerald’s touches and attention to details, like this outdoor spigot, which featured an exquisite swan knob. Photo: Wendy Goodman
For me, this pitcher by Italian ceramicist Bruno Gambone is one of the most beautiful pieces in the show. “Grandma and Grandpa were known for combining simple everyday items with perhaps a bit of grander things,” Laura says. “So I know that pitcher held her favorite combination of curly parsley with either roses or peonies.” She adds, “The coolest thing about the show is that this is the first time people in our community get to see the ‘artifacts’ and bits and bobs of their life.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
A Jazz Age Couple’s Hamptons Artifacts