The Heraldic Crest of a Modern American Man

Gerald Murphy (American, 1888–1964). Razor, 1924. Oil on canvas, 32 1/16 x 36 1/2 in.

With its almost “pre-Pop” billboard-style oversizing and graphic boldness, Gerald Murphy’s Razor suggests the heraldic crest of a modern American man, whose necessary tools are a Gillette safety razor, a Parker Big Red pen, and Three Stars matches. As the son of the head of the Mark Cross company, known for fine leather goods, Murphy was attuned to product design, as well as to style and status. After taking up painting in Paris in 1921, he borrowed from the new, reductive decorative aesthetic of Purism to celebrate American machine-age design for an enthusiastic postwar French audience. The painting also resonates in the context of Murphy’s obsessive self-fashioning as ultramodern and unconventional—an expression, in part, of his own bisexuality.

Part of Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, now playing at the Brooklyn Museum.

2 responses to “The Heraldic Crest of a Modern American Man

  1. Very cool. The safety razor seems right in keeping with current hipster-y preferences.

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