Fairfax Murray Papers

Scope and Content

The Fairfax Murray papers constitute an invaluable resource for students of Victorian art. The collection numbers over 1,500 items. There are important groupings of material relating to Sir Edward Burne-Jones, including letters from his wife Georgiana and photographs of the Burne-Jones and Morris children; letters and photographs relating to Charles Augustus Howell, who was for many years Ruskin's secretary and later close companion of Rossetti, Whistler and Swinburne; and letters and papers of the sculptors and brothers William, Henry and Charles Behnes (William Behnes was sculptor-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria).

In addition there are over 700 letters to Fairfax Murray from a wide range of correspondents and 200 letters exchanged between other correspondents. These include many of the leading figures of the contemporary art world, such as Charles Locke Eastlake, Sir Fredric William Burton, George Cruikshank, Myles Birket Foster, William Holman Hunt, Frederic Lord Leighton, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, Frederick Sandys and Joseph Severn.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919), artist and art connoisseur, was born on 13 September 1849 in London, the son of James Dalton Murray (1808-1876), a draper. About 1862 he was working in an engineering drawing office, but he entered Edward Burne-Jones's studio in around 1866-7, as an assistant. In 1867 Murray exhibited a painting Children in the Woods, at the Royal Academy and began work for William Morris. In 1869-1870 he worked in Rossetti's workshop as assistant, factotum, and proof-reader of Rossetti's poems. Touring Italy in 1871-1872 he executed copies of the Camposanto frescoes in Pisa: Burne-Jones showed these to John Ruskin who hired Murray as a copyist, sending him to Italy where he copied for Ruskin until 1883. Murray began living in Florence after 1878, periodically returning to London from about 1884-1885. He took a studio in Holland Park on 19 November 1886, and leased Burne-Jones's home, The Grange, from 1898.

Murray's major contributions were as collector, art dealer, connoisseur, and buyer, for public museums as well as for private collectors. His own collections included Italian and English art, especially Pre-Raphaelite art, rare and illuminated books, incunabula of different origins, and a complete series of the Kelmscott editions, forming one of the finest European book collections. During the late 1870s he was a consultant for Charles Moore of the Fog Art Museum at Harvard University. During the 1890s he was a consultant for several directors of the Fitzwilliam Museum and was a generous benefactor. He worked for two directors of the National Gallery, Frederick Burton and Edward Poynter, obtaining works by several early Italian painters, including Duccio, Matteo di Giovanni, Nicolò di Buonaccorso, Andrea del Castagno, Giovanni Bellini, and Barna da Siena, and donating a Pietro Lorenzetti painting in 1882. He worked for the South Kensington Museum under Thomas Armstrong for whom he purchased Orcagna's mosaic from the west front of Orvieto Cathedral. He also advised Edward Hooper of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1897.

His publications include several volumes on the rare books in his collections, a catalogue of the duke of Portland's collection (1894), and catalogues of his drawing collections. He was an agent for the art dealership Agnew's and for the dealer Martin Colnaghi. In 1903-1906 he sold his Pre-Raphaelite collection to the Birmingham City Museum and between 1907 and 1910 he sold his Renaissance drawings to J. Pierpont Morgan. He gave paintings to the Dulwich Gallery in 1911, and three years later sold some of his collection at Georges Petit, Paris. Murray died at his home in Chiswick, Middlesex, on 25 January 1919.

Source: Julie F. Codell, 'Murray, Charles Fairfax (1849-1919)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/62465.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the collection was purchased by the John Rylands Library at auction at Sotheby's, on 30 May 1961, having been consigned by the executors of the late Arthur R. Murray, son of Fairfax Murray. Additional material, not consigned to auction, was purchased from the London bookseller, H.M. Fletcher, in August 1961.


Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on Charles Fairfax Murray, etc.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MSS 1278-1283). Detailed handlist available for English MS 1282.

Alternative Form Available

Published microfilm: John Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Arts and Crafts Movement: the Ruskin, Holman Hunt, Fairfax Murray, Spielmann and Related Collections from the John Rylands University Library, Manchester (Woodbridge: Research Publications, 1990).

Related Material

See also related material about Victorian art and artists in the John Ruskin Papers, the Holman Hunt Papers and the Spielmann Collection at the UML.

Liverpool University, Special Collections and Archives, holds letters from Charles Fairfax Murray to John Sampson.