Charles Fairfax Murray, c.1870 by Mr. J.H. Gibbons. Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft, Jr. Manuscript Collection, Delaware Art Museum
Charles Fairfax Murray
Date: British painter, collector, dealer, 1849–1919
Biography: Charles Fairfax Murray was a colorful but reclusive figure. His father was a draper of Scottish descent who had some talent as an amateur artist. Little is known of his early days but, natural talent notwithstanding, he must also have had a measure of formal art training, and it is likely that he was taught by Gainsborough’s descendant, Gainsborough DuPont.

In 1866, the sixteen-year-old Fairfax Murray sent a portfolio of his work to John Ruskin who was impressed and generous enough to pay for his board and further training, and in November of that year Fairfax Murray joined Edward Burne-Jones as his assistant.

Work for Burne-Jones led to Fairfax Murray’s admission to the circle of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and to friendships that included almost every famous name in the mid-Victorian art-world: Millais, Spencer Stanhope, Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Webb, George Price Boyce, James McNeill Whistler and their patrons. From 1869, he was equally busy in Burne-Jones’s studio, working as a glass painter for Morris & Co. and illuminating manuscripts, as well as assisting Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

In 1872 Fairfax Murray moved to Italy, copying for Ruskin and studying the quattrocento masters on whom he became a notable expert, marrying there. In 1886 he moved back to London where he divided his time between dealing, collecting and painting. Much sought after as a portrait painter, he was an important figure among a new generation of artists and in the Arts & Crafts Movement, and was even a candidate for the Directorship of the National Gallery in 1894, the year in which he began his thirty-year friendship with Samuel Bancroft.

Around 1905, when Fairfax Murray was 55, he started to dismantle his vast holdings, seeing war just over the horizon as he traveled across Europe. He sold 1400 Old Master drawings to Pierpont Morgan and, at less than cost, his collection of Burne-Jones and Pre-Raphaelite drawings to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; he gave, anonymously, a major collection of illuminated manuscripts, early Gainsborough's, hundreds of Cox and de Wint watercolors and Titian’s Tarquin and Lucretia to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Charles Fairfax Murray retired to Italy in poor health; partially recovered, he returned to England, and died in London in January 1919.

Stephen Wildman
Waking Dreams