Nelly Littlehale Murphy (1867-1941)

Nelly Littlehale Murphy (1867-1941)

As a twelve year old, Nelly Littlehale Murphy showed an early talent as a floral watercolorist, roaming the hills of Butte, Montana, and capturing the wildflowers with her paints.  By age seventeen, she ventured to Boston and enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.  There she studied under Otto Grundmann and Joseph DeCamp and met her future husband, the artist Hermann Dudley Murphy.  

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Her earliest works included illustrations for poems, advertisements, and stories, and by 1911 she had begun writing for the Youth’s Companion as well.   The pieces from this period exhibit her distinctive fantasy style, but she soon moved more in the direction of fine art and studied at Harvard during the summer of 1914.  It was during this time in her life that Murphy produced her best-known paintings, her watercolors of flower arrangements.  An avid gardener, Murphy often used the flowers from her own garden beds, working inside her studio in Lexington.  Herman Dudley Murphy spoke fondly of these works:  “Rarely have flowers been painted with greater charm in arrangement, and mastery of the technique of Water Color.”[i]

Establishing a reputation as an artist in both the Boston and New York art communities, Murphy exhibited these watercolors at the Boston Art Club and held several solo exhibitions at the Boston City Club, the Guild of Boston Artists and the Macbeth Galleries in New York.  She was also an active member of numerous Boston societies including the Copley Society and the Boston Society of Watercolor Painters. 

References: Who Was Who in American Art, Guild of Boston Artists, Memorial Exhibition of Water colors by Nelly Littlehale Murphy.

[i] Memorial Exhibition of Water colors by Nelly Littlehale Murphy (Exhibition brochure). Boston:  Guild of Boston Artists, 1942.

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