Seamus Murphy
Biography of Irish Sculptor From Cork, Ireland, Noted for Stone Statues.

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see: Irish Art Questions.

Seamus Murphy (1907-1975)

One of the giants of Cork art, and an important figure in the 20th century history of Irish art, Seamus Murphy was a traditional sculptor, best known for his ecclesiastical limestone statues and portrait heads. Influenced at an early stage in his life by intellectual revisionist Daniel Corkery, his most notable works include Saint Brigid and the Twelve Apostles, San Francisco, ras an Uachtar in Dublin and the United Nations Monument in Glasnevin, Dublin.

Murphy was born in 1907 near Mallow in Cork, his father James Murphy was a railway employee. He attended St. Patrick's National School in Cork between 1912-1921, where he became the pupil of Daniel Corkery who gave him his first drawing lessons. In 1921, on the advice of Corkery, he entered the Crawford School of Art to study modelling.


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and evolution of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

Between 1922-1930 he became an apprentice stone carver at John Aloysius O'Connor's Art Marble Works, Cork. Murphy started his career at a difficult time for visual arts in Ireland. The country had just been through a war for Independence and a Civil war, and art was not a priority for the newly formed government. Funds from state and private individuals were scarce, Murphy lacked the contacts of Dublin sculptors like Albert Power, and headstones, the bread-and-butter of a stone mason's life, were starting to be mass-produced by machinery.

Conservatism dominated Ireland for decades, but despite this, Murphy, ever an optimist, was able to forge a career for himself. His first break came in 1931 when he was awarded the Gibson Bequest Scholarship Exhibits at the Royal Hibernian Academy Exhibition. In 1932 he studied at the Acadamie Colarossi in Paris for a year under the American Sculptor Andrew O'Connor.

For a list of the world's best ever
stone/wood carvers and bronze
artists, see: Greatest Sculptors.

In 1934 he returned home and opened a studio and stoneyard in Blackpool, Cork. His first commissions included Clonmult Memorial at Midleton, 2 statues for Bantry Church, and a carved figure of St Gobnait in Ballyvourney graveyard.

Murphy worked mainly in stone (usually limestone), and produced a range of works from religious statues, portrait heads, commemorative plaques, public monuments, gravestones and crosses. He also produced bronze portrait heads of public figures, writers, musicians and friends.

In 1945 he designed Blackpool Church for William Dwyer and in 1947 he carved the Apostles and St Brigid for a church in San Francisco. He also created the bronze portrait busts of 5 Presidents of Ireland and one of John F Kennedy for the US Embassy in Dublin.

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In 1950, Murphy published his autobiography 'Stone Mad' which celebrated the work of stone sculpture, a craft that was dying out in the 1940s, but one which had persisted since medieval times. Although Murphy understood modernists and their drive towards abstraction, he never felt this was a solution for his work.


Like the modern sculptor Eamonn O'Doherty, Murphy rarely showed his works, although he was elected a full member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1954. He went on to be appointed Professor of Sculpture at the RHA, joined the Arts Council of Ireland and was awarded an Honorary LLD by the National University of Ireland for his contribution to Irish art. He died in Cork in 1975 is buried at Rathcooney, County Cork.

Sculpture Appreciation: Ireland
To learn how to evaluate Irish stone carvers like Corkman Seamus Murphy, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Further Information

For classical works, see Greek Sculpture. For more about Irish sculptors, see: John Hogan (Waterford), John Henry Foley (Dublin), Oliver Sheppard (Tyrone), Rosamund Praeger (County Down), FE McWilliam (County Down), Alexandra Wejchert (Crackow and Limerick), Conor Fallon (Dublin), Oisin Kelly (Dublin), Edward Delaney (Dublin/Connemara) and Rowan Gillespie (Dublin).

• For more facts about sculptors and contemporary sculpture in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For details of wood sculpture, see: Wood Carving.
• For information about ceramics sculpture, see: Ceramic Art.
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