Charles Fairfax Murray

Girolamo da Cremona (illuminator), manuscript, St Giustina disputing with Maximian, water-based pigments, gilding and ink on parchment, Lombardy, ca 1462, purchased from Charles Fairfax Murray on 31 August 1894 for £100. Museum no. 817-1894

Girolamo da Cremona (illuminator), manuscript, St Giustina disputing with Maximian, water-based pigments, gilding and ink on parchment, Lombardy, ca 1462, purchased from Charles Fairfax Murray on 31 August 1894 for £100. Museum no. 817-1894

Charles Fairfax Murray was an artist, art connoisseur, collector and dealer who made important contributions to the South Kensington Museum’s collections: in particular its items of early majolica. He also painted the panels in the Museum’s Green Dining Room, working to Edward Burne-Jones’ designs.

Charles Fairfax Murray was born in September 1849 in Bow, East London. He entered Edward Burne-Jones’s studio as an assistant in 1866-7 and began work for William Morris, including the transfer of designs to stained glass, and illustrations for Morris’s poems. In 1869 Murray was involved in the decoration of the Green Dining Room at the South Kensington Museum now known as the Morris Room. This commission was undertaken by William Morris’s firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., and featured designs by Morris, Burne-Jones and Philip Webb. Burne-Jones’s designs for the panels of the dining room were initially painted by several different artists, but Morris was unhappy with the results and asked Murray to repaint each panel. Murray went on to work as an assistant in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s workshop (1869-70), and after a trip to Italy in 1871-2 he became a copyist for John Ruskin. He remained in Italy until 1884-5, after which he returned periodically to London.

During this time he became an important collector, dealer and connoisseur of art and books. In the late 1880s and early 1890s he was a consultant to the South Kensington Museum, selling items from his own collection to the Museum, and advising Museum staff on purchases such as Italian terracotta reliefs and sculptures, ecclesiastical metalwork, bronze mortars and early majolica. In 1895 he donated Burne-Jones’s model for the mosaic decoration of the American church in Rome to the Museum.

Murray died at his home in Middlesex on 25 January 1919.


Information in the V&A Archive

MA/1/M3216: Nominal file – Charles Fairfax Murray

Other archival sources

See the National Register of Archives

Selected printed works

Tucker, Paul. ‘‘Responsible Outsider’: Charles Fairfax Murray and the South Kensington Museum.’ In Gere, Charlotte, and Carolyn Sargentson, eds. ‘The Making of the South Kensington Museum: Curators, dealers and collectors at home and abroad.’ Journal of the History of Collections 14, no. 1 (2002): 115-37. NAL pressmark: PP.69.E

Elliott, David B. Charles Fairfax Murray: the unknown Pre-Raphaelite. Lewes: Book Guild, 2000. NAL pressmark: 602.AA.1889v

Death of Mr Fairfax Murray. [obituary]. Times (28 January 1919): 11.

Codell, Julie F. ‘Murray, Charles Fairfax (1849–1919).’ In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. NAL pressmark: 920.041 DIC

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