A Morley “Vermeer” Is a Nexus of Appropriation


The Broad has recently put on view Malcolm Morley’s Vermeer, Portrait of the Artist in his Studio (1968). It’s a copy, in acrylic, of Jan Vermeer’s 1666 oil painting in Vienna, or more exactly a copy of a poster of it. Morley duplicated the faded colors of the poster.

Morley, who was friends with Roy Lichtenstein, began doing paintings of printed images in the 1960s, drawing on postcards, travel brochures, and calendars. Given the date, Vermeer is a link between the pop era’s brand of appropriation and that of the 1970s and beyond. Morley’s meticulous recreation has something in common with Sherrie Levine’s appropriations. Morley is also playing with scale: His nearly 9-foot high painting subverts Vermeer’s intimism, much as Charles Ray’s 47-foot Firetruck becomes something very different from its toy model.

Eli Broad bought Morley’s Vermeer from a 1992 Sotheby’s auction of works from Charles Saatchi’s collection, for a record price ($627,000). To put that in perspective, Broad paid more for one Morley than Henry Clay Frick did for three authentic Vermeers.

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