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Cott, Lt. Cdr. Perry Blythe | Croft-Murray, Maj. Edward | De Vinna, Maurice A., Jr.

Croft-Murray, Maj. Edward  

Major, British Element, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

Educated at Lancing and Magdalen College, Oxford, Edward “Teddy” Croft-Murray became a volunteer research assistant in the Print Room at the British Museum. In 1933 he was named Assistant Keeper. During World War II, he served in the Admiralty and the War Office and was later transferred to the MFAA in Italy and Austria.

In 1943 Croft-Murray was sent to Sicily to report on damage to works of art. In his autobiography The Natural Bent by Lionel Fielden, Fielden humorously describes how Croft-Murray and he spent weeks attempting to reach their destination as they were routed through Tunis and Algiers.1 After a brief assignment in Sicily, Croft-Murray was stationed with the MFAA in Naples and traveled throughout the area assessing damage to monuments and securing works of art. He arrived at the nearby Palazzo Reale at Caserta (an 18th century palace built for the Bourbon kings of Naples) which had been recently requisitioned in September 1943 as the Headquarters for Allied Forces. The castle was previously occupied by the Italian Aviation College and German troops, and had been utilized as a repository by the Superintendent of Monuments of Campania. While Croft-Murray was there he supervised the removal of 500 paintings, 1000 pieces of furniture, and 20,000 books that had been stored during the war.2 In 1945, Croft-Murray was transferred to the British Element of the MFAA in Steiermark, Austria where he remained until 1946.

Croft-Murray return to the British Museum in 1946 and was promoted in 1953 to Deputy Keeper. In 1954 he succeeded A. E. Popham as Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings where he remained until his retirement in 1973.

An expert on British art, Croft-Murray co-authored with Paul Hulton the catalogue of the British Museum’s collection of drawings from the British School in 1960 (a second volume was nearly completed at the time of his death). Croft-Murray also wrote Decorative Painting in England 1537-1837 (published in two volumes in 1962 and 1971) which included not only the works of native artists, but also those of foreign artists working in England who greatly impacted the face of British art. In addition to Croft-Murray’s extraordinary career at the British Museum, he served as a board member, and acted as curator and chief advisor to the trustees for the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford for 25 years. He was also appointed Commander of the British Empire in 1966.

In addition to specializing in British and Venetian drawings and British decorative paintings, Croft-Murray’s passion for music was well-known. He was an authority on musical history and was instrumental in the publication of the diaries of Mary and Vincent Novello, which faithfully recorded their Mozart family meetings. Croft-Murray met the heirs of the Novellos while stationed in Florence in 1944 and after his return to England he encouraged the family to transcribe and publish the diaries. Croft-Murray also collected a variety of antique instruments, including a Clementi grand fortepiano which was destroyed by German fire during World War II. Croft-Murray’s collection of early instruments contained “possibly the finest collection in private hands of unaltered string instruments.”3 Many of his friends and colleagues fondly remember his penchant for playing the kettledrums during gatherings at his home of nearly fifty years on Maids of Honour Row on Richmond Green.4

In 1980, Croft-Murray died unexpectedly at the age of 73 while on his way to an Appointments Board meeting at the British Museum. In 2005, his wife, Jill Whitford-Hawkey, donated his research archive on decorative wall painting to the Courtauld Institute’s Wall Painting Survey.

1. Lionel Fielden, The Natural Bent (London: Andre Deutsch, 1960), 239-280.
2. Report of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office), 63.
3. Robin Langley, “Edward Croft-Murray, Antiquarian,” Early Music, Vol. 9, No. 2. (April 1981): 227-229.
4. James Bynum Shaw, “Edward Croft-Murray,” The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 123, No. 935. (Feb. 1981): 99-100.


Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art