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Tribute: Mary Isabel Murphy

by Angus Trumble, 28 September 2016

Portrait of HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, 2005 by Jiawei Shen
Portrait of HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, 2005 by Jiawei Shen

The Chairman, Board, Director and all the staff of the National Portrait Gallery mourn the loss of our Benefactor, Mary Isabel Murphy, who died peacefully at her home near Bowral on Tuesday 20 September. She was 100 years old.

Mollie Murphy grew up in Dorrigo, about thirty kilometres due west of Coffs Harbour on the Northern Tablelands in northern New South Wales. Her father was, at first, a stock and station agent, but later ran a successful real estate business based in Cronulla. Real estate was in Mollie’s genes, for her great-grandfather, Robert Pemberton Richardson (ca.1827‒1900), was the founder in 1858 of Richardson and Wrench Stock and Estate Agents. The years of the Great Depression and of World War II deprived Mollie of the opportunity to gain a university education in the arts. Instead she worked in her father’s real estate business, before marrying and settling on a cattle property on the banks of Lake George. She maintained a lifelong interest in real property, and by her own admission, eventually had to “stop herself from buying any more”—though she freely stated that, like many other women, she was very good at it. In the early 1960s, Mollie and her husband sold up and moved to Carribee Farm at Burradoo, near Bowral, where she and her family have kept large herds of Hereford cattle ever since.

Mollie entered the circle of the National Portrait Gallery at a time when, based at Old Parliament House, we still had relatively few donors and benefactors. That she should have continued to support us until the end of her long and remarkable life attests to her commitment, loyalty, and indeed to her warm affection for this institution.

In 2004 Mollie presented us the funds with which to purchase a charming portrait sketch of the comedian, entrepreneur and politician George Selth Coppin by Tom Roberts. The following year, she funded the commissioning of a new, full-length portrait of H.R.H. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark by Jiawei Shen.

We were delighted when, in March 2014, accompanied by her daughter Rosalind Blair Murphy, Mollie was among our guests on the occasion of the official visit to the National Portrait Gallery of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Not long afterwards, when we visited Mollie in Bowral, together she and Ros agreed to make possible the acquisition of our fine pair of portraits of Jeremiah and Mary Ware of Koort Koort Nong by Robert Dowling. Though somewhat frail, Mollie was already making plans for her 100th birthday some nine months away. This was a milestone she was absolutely determined to achieve. That she did so on 20 March this year remains a matter for celebration. We mourn Mollie, but we celebrate her remarkable life and we give thanks for the legacy she has left the Gallery in the form of the works of art we have been able to acquire because of her benefaction.

To Ros, her family and friends we extend our heartfelt condolences on their loss.

Dr. Helen Nugent, AO

Angus Trumble, FAHA