By Dorota Kozinska

He was a great patron of the arts and supporter of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and served as its president from 1968 to 1979. A respected ophthalmologist and former McGill professor, he dedicated the last chapter of his life to art and travel, combining the two in his delicate watercolours depicting faraway lands and landscapes.
This experience culminated in the publishing of a book, which now, upon his passing, takes on a more poignant tone. "Its English title, Dare to Draw, reads like a challenge, while its French version, La passion du dessin, speaks of vanquishing obstacles and giving rein to one’s calling. Somewhere in between lies the true story of Dr. Murphy’s love affair with art," I wrote in my review of this precious, modest publication.

Dr Murphy's love affair with art was joyful and youthful, as are all love affairs. There is no doubt, that by some kind of osmosis, it came from his parents. His mother was an accomplished printmaker, as was his father, and the two made a formidable couple on the art scene. Their works can be found in such prestigious institutions as the British Museum, La Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris and the Museum of Art in New York. The MMFA and the National Gallery of Canada go without saying.

Perhaps the last word should be given to Dr Murphy himself, so here's a passage from his book in which he describes the simple joy, and pleasure, of art-making: “You pack your sketch kit in your bag, grab your folding chair and head out in the early morning. It is particularly fun to go with a friend.

You can each choose your spot, get lost for hours sketching, then reconvene to check each other’s masterpieces. Just a slight shift of the chair one way or another and the entire scene and feeling of the land is transformed, especially as the light slowly moves from east to west, drastically changing shapes and hues and intensities of colour.” (p. 65)

Dare to Draw / La passion Du Dessin
By Sarah Thornton
Foreword by Alex Colville
120 pages (100 colour reproductions)
Galerie McClure, 2008
ISBN: 2-921440-17-2

Cecil Buller, Embrace, from Song of Solomon


John J.A. Murphy, Leap Frog
Dr. Sean B. Murphy, courtesy MMFA


Book cover