[Autograph letter to “Mrs. Mears” from noted watercolorist Elizabeth Murray reporting on the great fire in Portland, Maine, accompanied by a watercolor portrait]. Elizabeth Murray.
[Autograph letter to “Mrs. Mears” from noted watercolorist Elizabeth Murray reporting on the great fire in Portland, Maine, accompanied by a watercolor portrait].
[Autograph letter to “Mrs. Mears” from noted watercolorist Elizabeth Murray reporting on the great fire in Portland, Maine, accompanied by a watercolor portrait].

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[Autograph letter to “Mrs. Mears” from noted watercolorist Elizabeth Murray reporting on the great fire in Portland, Maine, accompanied by a watercolor portrait].

Portland, Maine, 15 July, [1866]. ALS, 8vo bifolium, 4 pp..; 1 watercolor portrait on wove paper, 11.25” x 8.75”. CONDITION: Letter: near fine. Watercolor: Very good, slight browning at edges.

A reflection on Portland, Maine in the aftermath of the great fire of 1866, by important and well-traveled British watercolorist Elizabeth Murray, accompanied by a watercolor sketch of a young Spanish woman.

Murray describes the tragic Portland scene as: “One sea of fire, and now one charred blackened region of desolation where only a few days ago was a lovely smiling city...” The Portland fire, which started during July 4th celebrations, reduced a third of the city to rubble and rendered more than 10,000 people homeless. “There is of course a great deal of distress,” but Murray reflects: “I think the class who excite the most commiseration are not those who deserve the most.” Expressing the class consciousness characteristic of the British, she distinguishes an “improvident set” who have lived “from hand to mouth at all times” from those “very superior people who have either inherited or saved a small income and have had to make the most of it who are now quite ruined and obliged to accept even a change of clothing.”

Elizabeth Murray (née Heaphy) was born in London in 1815. After the early death of her mother, she was instructed in watercolor painting by her artist father Thomas Heaphy, who was court painter to King George IV. At age 19 she was commissioned by Queen Adelaide to make drawings of Malta, after which she spent many years living abroad in Spain, Morocco (where she met her husband, British Consul Henry John Murray), and the Canary Islands. Her first book, Sixteen Years of an Artist’s Life in Morocco, Spain, and the Canary Islands (1859) was poorly received due to her negative commentary on the Canary Islands. This sudden decrease of popularity prompted the couple’s transfer to Portland, Maine, in 1860, where Henry served as Consul to Maine and New Hampshire until 1876.

Murray and her art were extremely well received throughout New England. An 1864 letter to the editor of Portland’s Daily Press calls her “one of the most gifted artists of the age” (“Fine Art”) and an author in the Boston Transcript touts her as “one of the best painters in water-colors now living” (Transcript). One critic, signed J.N.—likely the prominent author, critic, and activist John Neal—concluded an 1865 review of her recent portraits with the praise: “To say all in a word, her pictures are alive” ([Neal]). Murray herself evidently returned this northeastern good will, and exclaims in this letter: “You are a wonderful people for fortitude and energy, and I must add for […] Christian charity.” In addition to landscapes, she was particularly known for her expressive portraiture, and the letter is accompanied by an elegant watercolor sketch of a young woman’s head, inscribed: “Spain, With Eliz. Murray’s kind regards.”

Murray published her second book, The Modern System of Painting in Watercolour from the Living Model, from Portland in 1865. She was a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the American Water Color Society, and a founder of the Society of Female Artists in London. She died in San Remo, Italy, in 1882. In her Daily Press obituary she was celebrated as “among the leading artists in water-colors at home and abroad,” (“Elizabeth”), and has been noted afterwards as one of “the 19th century’s most influential female painters” (Barry).

An unusual account of Portland’s Great Fire and the character of the city from the point of view of a visiting British woman artist.

REFERENCES: Barry, William David. “Elizabeth Heaphy Murray Research Collection,” Maine Historical Society; “Beggars at a Church Door at Rome, from ‘Illustrated London News,’” TheMET; “Elizabeth Murray” (obituary), The Daily Press, 11 December, 1882; “Fine Art,” The Daily Press, 17 March, 1864; Transcript, quoted in The Daily Press, 22 November, 1865; [Neal, John]. “Fine Arts—Painting in Water Colors,” The Daily Press, 19 September, 1863.

Item #7203

Price: $475.00

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