Pioneering photorealist’s painting to go on display

  • Empire Monarch: a painting by Malcolm Morley, generously loaned to the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art by Larry and Cindy Meeker (Photograph supplied)

    Empire Monarch: a painting by Malcolm Morley, generously loaned to the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art by Larry and Cindy Meeker (Photograph supplied)

A pioneering painting said to be inspired by a Bermuda cruise ship is to be shown on the island for the first time.

Empire Monarch, by British-born artist Malcolm Morley, is thought to have been based on the Ocean Monarch, built for the Furness Bermuda Line in the 1950s.

Morley, a pioneer of photorealism, is understood to have created the painting from a postcard of the Ocean Monarch, used on cruises from the United States to the island.

Tom Butterfield, the founder and creative director of Masterworks, explained: “It’s the first time in the lexicon of painter versus photographer that a painter imitated a photographer rather than the other way around.

“Ever since photography was invented it was trying to imitate painting. In this case, the artist made a painting from a photograph. It was the first time this was done in the tradition of western art.”

He added: “I’m still pinching myself because this was a real breakthrough in western tradition.”

The Ocean Monarch served from 1951 to 1966 with the Furness Bermuda Line that ran cruises from New York City, mostly to Bermuda.

Mr Butterfield said: “It was the first ship to be built specifically for tourists.

Prior to that, all cruise boats had some ancillary income, whether it was taking the Royal Mail, or taking goods or wares to another country.

“They didn’t rely solely on passengers. The Ocean Monarch broke that mould.”

Mr Butterfield added: “Bermuda was a very lucrative route in the 1950s and early 1960s. Tourism in itself was a different animal than it is today.

“They would come on these cruise boats and stay for a week or two then go back on that boat.”

Mr Butterfield said it was not known what or where had inspired Morley’s Bermudian backdrop for the liner, as he believed the artist first visited the island about 13 years after he created the work.

But Mr Butterfield said the white roofs in the painting meant there was no dispute that it was influenced by Bermuda.

Mr Butterfield added: “In my mind, I look at the painting and it’s a composite of different things and elements he has included.

“We can’t find the exact postcard — I’m not sure it exists — but we have found the exact angle of the ship on the postcard he painted it from.”

Morley was born in London in 1931 and after a spell of petty crime as a teenager, he took to burglary and was later sentenced to three years in the notorious Wormwood Scrubs prison.

While locked up he read Lust for Life, a novel by Irving Stone that featured Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, and enrolled in a correspondence course.

Morley attempted to paint the Queen of Bermuda cruise ship from its physical presence in 1964 but turned to photographs and postcards as photorealism was born, although he preferred the term “super-realism”.

Mr Butterfield made his second attempt to secure a loan of the Empire Monarch from Larry and Cindy Meeker, prolific art collectors of Kansas City, Missouri, after Morley died at his home in New York last year.

Mr Butterfield said: “We just opened up communications and he couldn’t have been kinder. I guess he just wanted to see it happen. He said it was very appropriate that it was going to be in Bermuda. It’s the first time and it’s probably going to be the only time.”

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Published Jan 5, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 5, 2019 at 8:13 am)

Pioneering photorealist’s painting to go on display

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