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Arthur Murch

1902 – 1989

Arthur Murch, artist, is best-known as a painter in a colourful cubistic style, but he was occupied with sculpture throughout his career. Murch trained at Dattilo-Rubbo’s school between 1921 and 1925; meanwhile, in sculpture his most important teacher was Rayner Hoff. It was his sculpture that won him the 1925 Travelling Art Scholarship, which he spent most profitably in Italy. Later, his chief mentor was George Lambert, whom he assisted in Sydney from 1927 to 1930. At that time, Lambert was weakened by remnant malaria, and he greatly valued Murch’s strength, calling him the ‘pocket Hercules’. They worked together on the figure for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in St Mary’s Cathedral, and Murch completed the Henry Lawson Memorial after Lambert died in 1930. Other works Murch produced around the period of his association with Lambert include the memorial to Thorburn Brailsford Robertson in Adelaide University, and the Macarthur Onslow Memorial Light Horse Trophy. In 1933 he travelled with a scientific expedition to Hermannsburg, and he returned to the mission the following year. Many of his paintings reflect his interest in Indigenous culture and practises. In the late 1930s he was in the UK, and worked on the wool pavilion at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition. In 1941 he won the competition to execute the memorial relief in honour of Dame Nellie Melba in the Sydney Town Hall. During World War 2 he was an official war artist in the Northern Territory, working in Darwin and around the Adelaide River. Perhaps because his father was a carpenter-builder and he himself trained as an engineer, Murch sculpted in all imaginable media including fibreglass, rubber, pottery, stitched felt applique and cement - the latter when restoring Norman Lindsay’s garden sculptures. He was a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Art; he won the Society of Artists’ Medal in 1935 and the Archibald Prize for 1949. The 1977 exhibition Project 19: Arthur Murch at the Art Gallery of New South Wales was the first major survey of Murch’s work by a public gallery. Now, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has many of his works; the Australian War Memorial has more than thirty of his paintings and drawings and he is represented in most Australian public galleries. The papers of Arthur Murch, collated by Ria Murch, are in the archive of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Updated 2018