Malcolm Morley - Out of the Blue: The Enea Righi Collection London Friday, April 16, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'Two words characterise my art: diversity and fidelity. Fidelity somehow binds the diversity. And although the paintings might look very different from each other, you get the feeling the same artist painted them.'
    —Malcolm Morley
    Malcolm Morley’s diverse output defies stylistic characterisation. Having studied at the Royal College of Art in 1953 with fellow students including Peter Blake, Frank Auerbach, Joe Tilson and Richard Smith, Morley moved to America in 1957. In New York, Morley hung out with artists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Barnett Newman. These diverse, transatlantic artistic friendships reveal themselves in the varied styles adopted in Morley’s oeuvre.


    Moving without any warning or gradual transformation through so-called abstract, realism, neoromanticism, and neo-expressionism, Morley maintains a connection with and illustration of his own biographical experiences. As the artist once said, ‘I feel really in a way cursed by the need to make paintings that are images that people will experience.’i For Morley, the subject can never be eliminated from the painting. The Boat, The Knight, The Tank, 1990, holds an important poignancy for the artist and is consumed in a deep sense of nostalgia. In November 1989, Morley’s mother, who he had not seen in the last 5 years since winning the inaugural Turner Prize in 1984, died of throat cancer just before he could join her in Exeter. At the cathedral there, Morley painted from life a supine statue on a medieval tomb and integrated it into this work. The knight signifies one of his most distant ties to England. He notes, ‘Incredibly modern, and very robust – it was then that I thought of a connection to British art. The connection is that I have a background; it had an effect of encouragement. As if I had in my genes a memory of this knight.’ii


    Morley’s celebrated rascal wit and mischievous sense of humour is juxtaposed with this deep self-reflection and transferred into these bold, colourful canvases, full of unlikely and old-fashioned comparisons. Aligning the boat, the knight of old and the modern tank of warfare, it has a dreamlike quality with a typically disconcerting intimation of menace. Morley frequently uses the motif of a boat, plane and indeed knight, symbols of a young boy’s imagination. Growing up in London during the Second World War, Morley evacuated after his family home was bombed. He reminiscence, ‘I loved making models and I'd just finished this one and put it on a windowsill overnight ready to paint in the morning. That night we were blown up by a German V-1 bomb, a doodlebug, the whole of the wall was blown away and, of course, the model was lost, as was our home. Years later, when I was in psychoanalysis, a memory of the bombing came up and I realised that all those ships I'd done had to be to do with me trying to paint that battleship I never finished.’iii Morley’s works have a continual undeniable theme of catastrophe and playful misconduct contiguous with a vast array of artistic sources (film, literature, postcards and children’s toy models), united on large scale to create an engaging and relatable narrative. Yet despite the traumatic subject matter, Morley's paintings insinuate the imagined games of a child in the security of the home, rather than the truth of the disasters of war.


    In the 1960’s, Morley began executing intricate and exact paintings through his systematic method of gridding up canvases, using postcard imagery from horse races to beach scenes, royal pageants and ocean liners as his source material. The Boat, The Knight, The Tank, 1990, depicted in divided canvases, highlights the expressionist mode of painting adopted in the 1980s, working in loosened, visible and expressive brushstrokes. Despite the varied stylistic changes, thematically, Morley has remarkable degree of consistency in his approach. He comments, ‘I was once on a boat trip in England and was asked what I did. I said I was a natural scientist and was then asked what did that entail. 'Well,' I said, 'I study contours, mass, tone, colour, edges.' And that has stayed much the same.’ The Boat, The Knight, The Tank, demonstrates Morley’s exploration into questioning, attacking and fracturing the image, allowing his sense of personal crisis to connect with his recognition of crisis in painting and in the world at large.

    Richard Serra Looking at Malcolm’s paintings 

    What it is
    Is and is not

    What it means

    When I look at Malcolm’s paintings I mix my sensations and memories with my immediate perceptions. I don’t know how to separate them, I don’t understand what comes from my recollection and what comes from my perception.

    Malcolm’s paintings converge with my memories even though their subject is Malcolm’s memories, Malcolm’s sensations.

    What you see and what you think you see are not always synonymous with what’s present which also includes what’s absent; what’s in the gap, the caesura of perception.

    In that gap I find cynicism that targets social progress, I find friction, collision, collapse and catastrophe. The difference between one Morley and another is in the ideas they contain about painting which take me beyond the visual.


    Richard Serra 
    February 2005iv


    Installation shot: Avignon, Collection Yvon Lambert, Theorama, Collezione Enea Righi, 5 Feburary - 29 May 2005. The Boat, The Knight, The Tank
    Installation shot: Avignon, Collection Yvon Lambert, Theorema, Collezione Enea Righi, 5 Feburary - 29 May 2005. The Boat, The Knight, The Tank


    Malcolm Morley in conversation with Sir Norman Rosenthal

    i Malcolm Morley in conversation with Sir Norman Rosenthal   ii Malcolm Morley quoted in Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, Malcolm Morley, Itineraries, London, 2001, p.159   Malcolm iii Morley, quoted in Nicholas Wroe, ‘A Life in … Interview: Malcolm Morley’, The Guardian, 4 October 2013 (online)


    • Provenance

      Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
      Mary Boone Gallery, New York
      Galleria d'Arte Emilio Mazzoli, Moderna
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1997

    • Exhibited

      London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Malcolm Morley, 11 September - 12 October 1990
      Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou; Labège -Toulouse, Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Midi-Pyrénées Malcolm Morley, 2 June - 31 December 1993, pp 132, 309 (illustrated, p. 133, 207)
      Madrid, Fundación 'la Caixa'; Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Malcolm Morley, 19 September 1995 - 28 April 1996, no. 30, pp. 52, 142
      Moderna, Galleria d'Arte Emilio Mazzoli, Malcolm Morley: Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings, Sculpture, 26 September - November 1998, no. 19, pp. 14 - 15 (illustrated)
      Avignon, Collection Lambert, Theorema, Une Collection Privée en Italie. La Collection d'Enea Righi, 5 February - 29 May 2005, p. 18, 238, 242 (illustrated, p. 19)

    • Literature

      Richard Milazzo, Malcolm Morley: The Art of the Superreal, The Rough, The Neo-Classical and the Incommensurable, 1958-1998, New York, 1998, no. 19, n.p. (illustrated)
      Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, Malcolm Morley (ITINERARIES), London, 2001, no. 147, pp. 159, 253 (illustrated, p. 159)
      Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, “Conversations avec Malcolm Morley.” in Les Cahiers du Museé National d’Art Moderne. Paris, Centre Pompidou, 2002, p. 80
      Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, Malcolm Morley: Itinéraries, Geneva, 2002, no. 153, p. 167, 260 (illustrated, p. 167)
      Malcolm Morley: The Art of Painting, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 2005, no. 17 p. 23 (illustrated)


The Boat, The Knight, The Tank

signed 'Malcolm Morley' lower left of the lower part; further signed and dated 'MAlcolm Morley 1990' on the reverse of the lower part
oil on linen, triptych
upper and centre part 91.7 x 198.5 cm (36 1/8 x 78 1/8 in.)
lower part 145.2 x 198.5 cm (57 1/8 x 78 1/8 in.)
overall 328.6 x 198.5 cm (129 3/8 x 78 1/8 in.)

Painted in 1990.

Full Cataloguing

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £189,000

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

+ 44 20 7318 4065

Out of the Blue: The Enea Righi Collection

London Auction 16 April 2021