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Giorgio Morandi Photo

Giorgio Morandi

Italian Painter and Printmaker

Movements and Styles: Cubism, Italian Futurism, Metaphysical Art, Realism

Born: July 20, 1890 - Bologna, Italy

Died: June 18, 1964 - Bologna, Italy

Giorgio Morandi Timeline

Important Art by Giorgio Morandi

The below artworks are the most important by Giorgio Morandi - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Natura morta (Still Life) (1914)
Artwork Images

Natura morta (Still Life) (1914)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of Giorgio Morandi's earliest paintings, Natura morta (Still Life) of 1914, features a wooden table on which stands an assortment of monochromatic objects of everyday life. Although rendered in an abstract fashion, the viewer is still able to identify an upright book with its binding facing outward, which is positioned in front of a clear bottle, a vase, and a pitcher. In the space behind the table appears an abstracted view of a room, suggesting part of a wall, a window, and another table. While the objects are all inert, they are painted to suggest instability and movement, with a diagonal thrust that propels them towards the viewer.

In his early years, Morandi experimented with emerging styles; this painting shows the influences of both Futurism and Cubism. Morandi's still life suggests Futurism in the way each object is rendered to suggest movement towards the foreground. Elements of Cubism are visible in the use of bold outlines that emphasize basic geometric shapes and their arrangement into a compressed plane, along with the thick application of muted tones of paint. Although this dynamism would soon be replaced with a calm stability, this early work establishes basic formal elements that will appear throughout Morandi's later work.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Augusto and Francesca Giovanardi

Natura morta (Still Life) (1916)
Artwork Images

Natura morta (Still Life) (1916)

Artwork description & Analysis: Giorgio Morandi's painting Natura morta (Still Life) features an arrangement that includes two brown bottles, a gray pitcher and coffee pot, and a two-toned gray box. The works are rendered simply and lack detail. They sit on a beige tabletop, the edge of which is slightly below the center of the canvas, dividing the composition into three bands. The top and bottom band are a chocolate brown, highlighting the tabletop which depicted in lighter tan to better define the objects and the shadows cast.

Although this subject is unremarkable in itself, Morandi believed it carried important potential, describing how "even in as simple a subject, a great painter can achieve a majesty of vision and an intensity of feeling to which we immediately respond." This would push Morandi to focus on the development of formal qualities of line, color and composition. Although unassuming, this work must have been a particular importance to Morandi, as it was displayed for many years on the wall of his studio; he also selected this painting to show at the 1948 Venice Biennale. Well received at that exhibition, it helped to earn him the event's painting prize and was later purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

Natura morta (Still Life) (1918)
Artwork Images

Natura morta (Still Life) (1918)

Artwork description & Analysis: Morandi's Natura morta (Still Life) (1918) departs from his earlier realism with three unrecognizable objects suspended in a box with a clear front. A key painting in his oeuvre, this is one of a small number of works in which he drew inspiration from the Metaphysical school of painting and most particularly shows the influence of the leading artists of this style, Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra.

While the three objects resemble a ball, a skittle pin, and a mitered frame edge, the way in which they are arranged is unrealistic, producing a surreal, slightly disturbing effect. They float in the enclosed space of a box that also defies perspectival space. Yet, even when working within this irrational style, Morandi depicts the objects in a tightly structured arrangement. The metaphysical elements are secondary to the composition of the objects, the energy of the space between them, and how they reflect the light; these elements are characteristic of Morandi's broader body of work and outlast his experimentation at this phase of his career. Art historians have argued that it was during this phase of Metaphysical painting that Morandi first experimented with giving deeper meanings to common objects.

Later Morandi would distance himself from any participation in this movement stating, "My own paintings of that period remain pure still life compositions and never suggest any metaphysical, surrealist, psychological, or literary considerations at all."

Oil on canvas - Collection of Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, Italy

Natura morta (Still Life) (1919)
Artwork Images

Natura morta (Still Life) (1919)

Artwork description & Analysis: This still life painting features a tabletop arrangement, including of a plate of bread that is partially concealed by a folded white cloth, a white pedestal bowl full of oranges, and a light brown box made of wood. The items are placed on a dark wooden hutch or low sideboard against a cream paneled wall. Arranged according to their height, the objects gentle rise as the composition moves from left to right, creating an effect of gentle movement. A pattern is created between the rounded forms of the plate, the bowl, the oranges and the verticality of the cloth and box.

A rare example of food as a subject, this composition is also more formally arranged and detailed than most of Morandi's works. This closely reflects the influence of French artist Paul Cezanne, as it appears strikingly similar to many of Cezanne's still life works. Morandi's admiration of the Post-Impressionist is well-documented; he would later claim that "in the first two decades of this century, very few Italians were as interested as I in the work of Cezanne, Monet, and Seurat."

This work helped to establish Morandi's career when it was reproduced in the Italian magazine Valori Plastici in 1919. A widely-read publication, this would have brought Morandi's work before an international audience, although the recognition did not change his reclusive working habits or his quiet devotion to this basic formula of still life composition.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Museo d'arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto, Italy

Paesaggio (Landscape) (1935)
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Paesaggio (Landscape) (1935)

Artwork description & Analysis: Paesaggio depicts the Italian countryside, terrain familiar to Morandi from his summer travels to the mountain town of Grizzana. It is a simple, undramatic scene that features a dirt road bordered by lush fields and trees of green. In the far right appears a white house with an orange-brown roof, with two windows. In the background, a blue sky is bisected by a band of light-blue and white clouds. Morandi often worked in series, pushing the viewer to notice slight variations and modulations between similar canvases.

Having established his reputation as a modern artist by this time, Morandi included this work in a room dedicated to his paintings at the prestigious Quadriennale exhibition in Rome in 1939. Although he resists abstraction, Morandi is equally resistant to detailed, illusionistic reproduction; he remained a studio painter, who occasionally studied his subject through a telescope or binoculars. Painted in his typical simple style, the scene is rendered in thick loose brushstrokes. While there is little detail, he captures the essence of the sun and the natural world, as experienced in this quiet town. As John Berger would explain in an early 1955 essay, Morandi's paintings described a light and atmosphere that were recognizably Italian, providing a subtle continuity with Roman or Renaissance art without any overt connection.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, Italy

Still Life with Yellow Cloth (1952)
Artwork Images

Still Life with Yellow Cloth (1952)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of a series of heralded images painted in 1952 that feature the recognizable yellow cloth, this still life presents a collection of objects that are both static and unstable. In each of this series, he gathers a number of vessels around the cloth, with only slight variations in the composition and palette. Through these slight adjustments, he draws our awareness to the subtle effects of light, shape, and color, while retaining a sense of silence and timeless stillness.

We see here his attention to repeated forms, as the roundness of the vase on the right is echoed by the white dish and wide-necked jar on the left. The two white vertical towers are balanced by the crumpled horizontality of the yellow cloth and brown bowl that stretch between them, along with the striated tabletop upon which they sit. And yet these horizontal and vertical shapes do not snap into a perfect grid, but remain askew; the lines and contours of these objects are neither completely definite nor straight, providing a sense of instability to the composition.

Some commentators have noted that Morandi's still life compositions can almost be stand-ins for his landscapes. The vertical elements stand out against an expansive horizon line. Bathed in the same warm, gentle light as his landscape paintings, they are not unlike the sun-faded buildings of the Italian countryside. Morandi's attention to the textured spatial distances between these objects and the carefully rendered shadows give a sense of physicality that suggests something more grand than a mere collection of household items.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

Fiori (Flowers) (1953)
Artwork Images

Fiori (Flowers) (1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: Giorgio Morandi's Fiori is a small painting measuring nearly sixteen by twelve inches. The single object is a white vase, filled by a small bouquet of pink and white roses in various states of bloom. Almost monochromatic in its palette, the work is comprised of various shades of cream and white but for the few pink petals. The restraint of Morandi's palette continues in the background, which is divided into two regions of closely-related cream.

The series reflects his modern style of loose, gestural brushstrokes and soft colors. Yet, unlike many artists who painted flowers for their vibrancy, Morandi often worked with silk or dried flowers, a subtle choice that changed the intensity of the color palette and made the overall effect of the work more muted. He occasionally even covered the flowers with a layer of dust to further subdue the original colors and remove them from any connection to their natural environment.

In Morandi's hands, this floral arrangement becomes a vehicle for documenting the interplay of light on objects and their surrounding space. The emphasis is firmly not illusionistic, but about creating a relationship between closely-related colors and forms. Here, the diagonal shadow cast by the vase is arguably as important as the vase itself and becomes integral to the painting's overall composition, a modern approach to activating the negative space of the painting that was key to Morandi's practice.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

Natura morta (Still Life) (1953)
Artwork Images

Natura morta (Still Life) (1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: This canvas features a grouping of five items, placed closely together in two tight rows. In the front are three boxes; behind them appears the lip of a small blue vessel and a taller white vase whose long neck and circular opening stands above all the other objects. Other than a brownish-yellow shadow of the objects to the right, the rest of the canvas consists of an even, cream colored background formed in the artist's characteristic loose brushstrokes.

This work provides an example of Morandi's serial approach, in which he would make several paintings of a subject, with only slight changes to the composition in between works. This practice is reminiscent of the Impressionist artists who often painted multiple versions of a single subject to capture the effects of light at different times of day; this underscores the importance of Monet and Cezanne to Morandi's process.

Indeed, Morandi's still lifes were the result of a highly staged and methodical procedure. Often he would begin by carefully tracing the outline of the objects on actual tabletop surface before experimenting with various screens to control the light that would filter onto the objects. He would sometimes even make an outline of his own feet to indicate where he should stand on the studio floor to avoid any distortions or inconsistences as he developed the painting. The result was a perfect suspension of time, which allowed him to focus on formal relationships in a controlled environment.

Oil on canvas - The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.



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Giorgio Morandi Photo

Related Art and Artists

Houses at L'Estaque (1908)
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Houses at L'Estaque (1908)

Movement: Cubism

Artist: Georges Braque

Artwork description & Analysis: In this painting, Braque shows the influence of Picasso's Les Demoiselles of the previous year and the work of Paul Cézanne. From Cézanne, he adapted the uni-directional, uniform brushwork, and flat spacing, while from Picasso he took the radical simplification of form and use of geometric shapes to define objects. There is, for example, no horizon line and no use of traditional shading to add depth to objects, so that the houses and the landscape all seem to overlap and to occupy the foreground of the picture plane. As a whole, this work made obvious his allegiance to Picasso's experiments and led to their collaboration.

Oil on Canvas - Hermann and Margrit Rupf Foundation, Bern

Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table) (1895-1900)

Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table) (1895-1900)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Artwork description & Analysis: After studying Dutch and French Old Master still life painting at the Musée du Louvre and other Paris galleries, Cézanne formulated his own semi-sculptural approach to still lifes. Typically strewn across an upturned tabletop, Cézanne's pears, peaches, and other pictorial elements seem at once to rest on a solid, wooden plank and yet float across the surface of the canvas like a new kind of calligraphy. As if to press home that point, Cézanne typically includes chairs, wooden screens, water pitchers, and wine bottles to suggest that the gaze of the viewer rise vertically up the canvas, rather than plunge deep within any implied corner of a real kitchen.

Oil on canvas, 47 x 56 cm (18 1/4 x 22 in) - The Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania

The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1910)
Artwork Images

The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1910)

Artist: Giorgio De Chirico

Artwork description & Analysis: The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon is the first painting in de Chirico's Metaphysical Town Square series, and the first painting in which he settled upon the style and imagery for which he is now famous - quiet, enigmatic, strangely simplified scenes of old towns. It is also the first in a number of canvases that he titled with the word "enigma." We may speculate that the enigma in question is the relationship between the real and the unreal, as this picture was painted after the artist felt a revelation in Florence's Piazza Santa Croce in which the world appeared before him as if for the first time. The painting depicts a portion of that square in a simplified fashion. It has many of the features that would become hallmarks of his work: a desolate piazza bordered by a classical facade, the long shadows and deep colors of the city at dusk, and a stationary figure, here a statue. The sail visible in the distance may have been inspired by de Chirico's memories of visits he made as a youth to the harbor of Piraeus in Greece.

Oil on canvas - Peggy Guggenheim collection

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