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Artists Giorgio Morandi
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

Quotes

"I believe nothing is more abstract than reality."
Giorgio Morandi
"Before I die I should like to complete two pictures. The important thing is to touch the core, the essense of things."
Giorgio Morandi
"There is little or nothing new in the world. What matters is the new and different position in which an artist finds himself seeing and considering the things of so-called nature and the works that preceded and interested him."
Giorgio Morandi
"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."
Giorgio Morandi
"After all, even a still life is architecture."
Giorgio Morandi
"What has value in painting is an individual way of seeing things: nothing else counts."
Giorgio Morandi
"If I had been born twenty years later, I would find myself in the same state as today's painters. Something has ended; I wouldn't want to be young today."
Giorgio Morandi
"Though aware of just how hard it will be to attain the distant goal I have glimpsed, I am sustained by the certainty that the path I am following is the right one. I repudiate nothing in my past.. Conscience has always guided me in my work and I am comforted by the knowledge that in all my endeavors, even in the moments of greatest uncertainty, my personality has always managed to come through"
Giorgio Morandi
"[I am a] believer in Art for Art's sake rather than in Art for the sake of religion, of social justice or national glory. Nothing is more alien to me than an art which sets out to serve other purposes than those implied in the work of Art in itself."
Giorgio Morandi
"All this calm, all this peace, this somber equilibrium that underlies the works of Giorgio Morandi and found in Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico masks the uneasiness that something threatening is about to explode."
Salvador Dali
"[Morandi's] pictures have a dreamlike quality," Steiner replies. "The objects seem to be bathed in the light of memory, yet they're painted with such solidity and real feeling that you can almost touch them - one might say that art has left nothing to chance. There is a calm that weighs on me. It is a peace that makes me afraid... Perhaps because I distrust it above everything. I feel that its only an appearance, that it hides a danger.. They say that the world of the future will be wonderful. But what does that mean? It needs only the gesture of a madman to destroy everything."
Federico Fellini - La Dolce Vita
"Viewed in a series, Morandi's paintings affirm an order that is as new, variable, and convincing as Piet Mondrian's his closest modern equivalent in spirit although not in style. In figurative terms, rather than in the abstract terms of Mondrian, Morandi devoted himself to studying the slight but crucial shifting of weight in forms that counterbalance each other."
Art Historian J.T.Soby

"One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see."

Giorgio Morandi Signature

Synopsis

Holed up in a small room in the center of Italy, far from the avant-garde of his day, Giorgio Morandi painstakingly worked to unlock the puzzles of art, the questions of modern painting, looking for the structure and order that underlies the process of representation itself. With a sparse selection of household objects and familiar landscapes, painted in muted tones and warm light, Giorgio Morandi bridged the grand legacy of Italian art and twentieth-century modernism. With carefully crafted tonal relationships and a sense of palpable light and space, his paintings extended a tradition of representational painting while creating a minimalist aesthetic that remained relevant in the face of abstraction. Ultimately, Morandi's poetic style did not escape the attention of his contemporaries and established a legacy for generations of representational painters.

Key Ideas

Morandi grounded his work in familiar and universal forms and yet suggested an autobiographical quality in his careful paint handling and attention to an identifiable Italian quality of light. Although he painted generic household objects, critics noted how his representation of these objects conveyed a sense of Morandi's personality, monastic habits, and Bolognese environment. His tightly unified body of work would be influential for its close study of unremarkable elements of daily life, imbuing them with implications of deeper significance by emphasizing their painterly beauty and simplicity.
Engaged with his own pictorial experiments, Morandi was seemingly unaffected by contemporary art movements when the avant-garde was overwhelmingly interested in abstract painting. Yet, his concerns were similar to experiments by his contemporaries; for example he approached color, line, light, space, and brushstroke, as problems to be solved through careful study and nuanced adjustments. His realism was not simple reproduction of a subject; comparing Morandi's paintings with photographs of the objects he depicted, his manipulations of volume, shape and space become clear. As a contemporary critic, J.T. Soby exclaimed, "[Morandi separates] volumes and color and then interlock[s] them again in an alchemy he alone understood." Moreover, Morandi imbued these elements with emanating light that is far less evident in reproductions of his work, but that is palpable in the original paintings.
With his attention to technique and painstaking precision, Morandi extended the legacy of Italian painting into the twentieth century, but gave it new relevance with his minimalist style and non-narrative focus. The sparse palette, clean lines, and careful brushstroke of Morandi's still lifes are unmistakably modern and his attention to technique and the physicality of the painted surface connected later twentieth-century painters with the grand traditions of the still life and landscape genres.

Most Important Art

Giorgio Morandi Famous Art

Natura morta (Still Life) (1914)

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.
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Giorgio Morandi Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

Giorgio Morandi was the eldest of five children, born into a middle class family in Bologna, Italy. His only brother died in childhood. Morandi developed an interest in art from an early age, displeasing his father who wanted his son to join him in his export business; Morandi attempted this unsuccessfully in 1906 before enrolling at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts in 1907. His pursuit of art as a career is owed in part to his failure at his father's company, his resistance to changing his focus on art despite his father's best efforts, and because of his mother's belief that her son should follow his dreams.

Early Training

Giorgio Morandi Biography

Although his father's unexpected death in 1908 left him to care for his mother and three younger sisters, Morandi continued with his studies with the support of his mother. It was during this study that he was first exposed to Futurism and Cubism, which influenced his earliest work. Morandi also studied the Old Masters, explaining in his 1928 autobiography that "only an understanding of the most vital achievements in painting over the past centuries could help me find my way." He graduated in 1913, but extended his education with travel throughout Italy, including a trip to the Venice Biennale. These trips would later prove important, since after the 1920s, Morandi rarely traveled internationally; most of his subsequent exposure to artists came through art books. In particular, he studied the work of the Impressionists such as Claude Monet, and later greats like Paul Cézanne and Georges Seurat. He also did travel within Italy, primarily to visit museums and exhibitions, and was much more travelled than some historical accounts make him out to be.

Morandi's early career was interrupted when he was drafted into the Italian army during World War I. As a highly private individual, communal army life did not agree with him. Shortly after he had a breakdown that resulted in a quick discharge from the service and forced a slowing of his artistic output during the following years.

Mature Period

Giorgio Morandi Photo

Beginning in 1916, Morandi briefly worked in the style of the Metaphysical School and participated in group exhibitions focused on this movement. This was the first time his art was recognized on the international stage and it has been argued that this period gave him the confidence to experiment further. Yet, despite his association with leading artists of that school, including close relations with Carlo Carra and Giorgio de Chirico, he later denied the influence of this style on his future work and stated that he never painted anything that he could not see with his own eyes. Even if history is hard to trace here, as in much of his life, art historians have placed much importance on pittura metafisica as a milestone in Morandi's development. Also important are the artist's early encounters with modern ideas through contemporary artists, for instance Carlo Carra's 1910 statement "artistic creation demands a vigilant, diligent, attentive willpower and requires a constant effort not to lose the apparitions, which are nothing more than lightning bolts of ordinary things that when they illuminate create the essentials that are so precious to us modern artists." This idea seems to echo powerfully throughout Mondrian's artistic exploration.

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Giorgio Morandi Biography Continues

Soon after, Morandi moved towards the modernist style for which he is best-known, featuring simple, quietly elegant still lifes of everyday domestic objects such as bottles and jars or landscapes depicting his immediate environment. In his still life works, he developed a serial style where he depicted groups of objects with only the slightest variations in spacing or positioning. While most of these works were paintings, Morandi often also turned to etchings to capture these objects in the limited palette of black and white.

For many years Morandi preserved a quiet, daily routine. Most of his painting took place in his studio, a small room in an apartment shared with his three sisters and his mother (he lived his whole life with his 3 unwed sisters). Despite its size, the room was well-lit and provided a view from his window of the surrounding landscape, one of two scenes he repeatedly depicted. (The other landscape was based on views in the mountain town of Grizzana where Morandi often spent the summer months with his family and where he would eventually build a vacation home and studio.) His monastic lifestyle is further crystallized by the dust that settled on the many bottles and objects Morandi used in his still lifes. For example, historian John Rewald wrote after a visit to the artist's studio: "No skylight, no vast expanses; an ordinary room of a middle class apartment lit by two ordinary windows. But the rest was extraordinary: on the floor, on the shelves, on a table, everywhere, boxes, bottles, vases, all kinds of containers in all kinds of shapes... On the surfaces of the shelves or tables, as well as on the flat tops of boxes, cans or similar receptacles, there was a thick layer of dust. It was a dense, gray, velvety dust, like a soft coat of felt, its color and texture seemingly providing the unifying element for these tall boxes and deep bowls, old pitchers and coffee pots, quaint vases and tin boxes."

In 1922, Giorgio de Chirico said Morandi was "trying to rediscover and create everything by himself." This could be the key insight to understanding the stubborn quest that Morandi took upon himself that would occupy the whole of his life. He saw value to the process of study and technical preparation and criticized contemporaries who disdained these traditions; much later in life, when Morandi saw the works of the Abstract Expressionists, he reflected that Jackson Pollock "just jumps in before he knows how to swim."

Despite his humble and secluded lifestyle, Morandi was quickly recognized as a notable and influential modern artist. Flying in the face of contemporary painting in the vein of Surrealism or abstraction, his mastery of a formal vocabulary of color, light, and composition began to draw attention. In 1934, Roberto Longhi, the newly appointed chair of the University of Bologna's art history department, declared that Morandi was "one of the best painters living." The statement was rather surprising because Morandi was locally known primarily as an unassuming professor of etching, not the master to be mentioned in the tradition of Carracci and other Bolognese greats. Mirroring his aesthetic devotion to technique and formal experimentation, teaching art was an important part of Morandi's life; he taught drawing in the local elementary schools for years before joining the faculty of his alma mater, the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts as Professor of Etchings in 1930. He would remain with the Academy for decades, even as he gained international renown, preferring the peace and stability of a regular position, away from the major artistic centers of Europe.

Morandi's politics remain uncertain. The Italian art historian Lionello Venturi, who was forced to leave Italy for his anti-Fascist views, argued that Morandi's insistence upon simple, unassuming objects held political implications as an ironic refusal of more grandiose aesthetics under Mussolini. A more recent 2004 publication by Morandi's assistant Janet Abramowicz, claimed that he was friendly with the early Fascist regime, and was the beneficiary of employment, exhibitions, sales, and overall wider acclaim because of his connections to the government during these years.

Regardless of how Morandi may have collaborated with Mussolini's regime in the early years, by the time World War II approached, the artist appears to have separated himself from politics and escaped into neutrality. In 1943, Morandi was arrested and jailed for about a week under suspicion of participating in resistance movements, although it is more likely that he was brought in as part of a general sweep of the creative personalities of the time. Following the incarceration, the Morandi family moved to Grizzana to escape the chance of further trouble with Bolognese authorities and to allow him to continue his work in a serene setting.

Late Period

Giorgio Morandi Portrait

Many world events passed by, but Morandi stubbornly continued to focus on mostly still life, working with a small range of similar compositions to mature his technique and form over the decades. It may be inferred that Morandi fell in love with the simple objects he bought at second-hand shops, he stared and analyzed their forms day and night - such passion may help explain his deep devotion to his select subjects.

His few landscapes reflected the increasing modernity of the world around him; the wires and antennae that were now part of the view from his studio window began to appear, albeit abstractly, in his 1950s paintings. For 26 years, Morandi retained his post as a professor of etching at the Academy, only leaving in 1956 to pursue artmaking full-time as a well-established painter, finally financially secure from selling his work. (Prior to that, he and his family struggled financially, and he fought with his dealers over sales and proper representation.)

The majority of his critical triumph occurred in the last 15 years of his life: he won a major prize at the 1948 Venice Biennale and at the 1957 Sao Paulo Biennale. He was also heralded for his work in contrast to the modern "isms" at Documenta 2 in Kassel in 1959.

Yet, even in his late years, Morandi preferred to concentrate on his work rather than focus on exhibitions and international esteem. He once declined an invitation to be exhibited because he found the organizers too insistent: "They really want to deprive me of that small measure of calm that is necessary for my work." Still, his fame grew; Morandi's art even found its way into Italian popular culture near the end of his life when Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini included a scene in which actor Marcello Mastroianni discusses a work by Morandi in his 1960 film La dolce vita.

Morandi passed away in 1964 from lung cancer. He was seldom seen without a cigarette most of his life and supposedly smoked each one to the tip, just short of burning his hands. In his final months, he joked in a letter "Can you imagine that for three days I haven't had a cigarette".


Legacy

Giorgio Morandi Portrait

The famous Italian writer Umberto Eco gave a 1993 speech inaugurating the Morandi Museum in Bologna including this excerpt: "How can you tell such different stories by depicting not a nativity or a storm at sea, a sunset on a lake or the birth of spring, but an array of objects from a junk shop? You have to love the world and the things that are in the world, even the humblest, the light and shadow gladdening or saddening them, and the very dust that chokes them. Morandi reaches the peak of his spirituality as a poet of matter."

Focusing on formal rhythms and subtle palette modulations, Morandi modernized still life painting with an attention to color, form, and composition that declared these traditional components to be meaningful. The subtleties of his palette, light, and brushstroke are vital to a fuller understanding of his lifelong project, and his influence on later artists, yet his work suffers in reproduction and remains excruciatingly difficult to describe on the written page; they are sensual experiences that resist concrete language.

Still, he remains a model for many generations of artists. His resistance to abstraction provided an important model for later generations in various stylistic movements, including representational painters of the Pop style and the 1980s. He was also influential to the Minimalists, who admired his attention to simple physicality, medium-specificity and sparse forms. Additionally, his work inspired assemblage artists such as Joseph Cornell and Louise Nevelson, who also created sculptures based on careful combinations of ordinary objects.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Giorgio Morandi
Interactive chart with Giorgio Morandi's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

GiottoGiotto
Georges SeuratGeorges Seurat
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Carlo CarràCarlo Carrà
Giorgio de ChiricoGiorgio de Chirico

Friends

Giacomo LeopardiGiacomo Leopardi
Luigi MagnaniLuigi Magnani
Carlo Ludovico RagghiantiCarlo Ludovico Ragghianti

Movements

CubismCubism
Italian FuturismItalian Futurism
ImpressionismImpressionism
Metaphysical ArtMetaphysical Art
PurismPurism
Giorgio Morandi
Giorgio Morandi
Years Worked: 1913 - 1964

Artists

Carlo CarràCarlo Carrà
Giorgio de ChiricoGiorgio de Chirico
Joseph CornellJoseph Cornell

Friends

Giacomo LeopardiGiacomo Leopardi
Luigi MagnaniLuigi Magnani
Carlo Ludovico RagghiantiCarlo Ludovico Ragghianti

Movements

Italian FuturismItalian Futurism
Pop ArtPop Art
MinimalismMinimalism

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and revised by Sarah Archino
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Useful Resources on Giorgio Morandi

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The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Giorgio Morandi (Twentieth-Century Masters Series) Recomended resource

By Karen Wilkin

Giorgio Morandi: Works, Writings, Interviews

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More Interesting Books about Giorgio Morandi
All That Life Contains, Contained Recomended resource

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
September 18, 2008

Giorgio Morandi Creates a Universe on a Tabletop Recomended resource

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
November 19, 2015

Tables for One - Giorgio Morandi's still-lifes Recomended resource

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
September 22, 2008

The Metaphysician of Bologna: John Berger on Giorgio Morandi, in 1955

ARTnews
November 6, 2015

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