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Giorgio Morandi Photo

Giorgio Morandi

Italian Painter and Printmaker

Born: July 20, 1890 - Bologna, Italy
Died: June 18, 1964 - Bologna, Italy
Movements and Styles:
Metaphysical Painting
"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."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"I believe nothing is more abstract than reality."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"Before I die I should like to complete two pictures. The important thing is to touch the core, the essense of things."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"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."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"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."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"After all, even a still life is architecture."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"What has value in painting is an individual way of seeing things: nothing else counts."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"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."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"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"
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"[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."
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Giorgio Morandi Signature
"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."
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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."
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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."
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Art Historian J.T.Soby

Summary of Giorgio Morandi

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 20th-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.

Accomplishments

  • 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 20th 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 painters with the grand traditions of the still life and landscape genres.

Biography of Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi Photo

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.



Progression of Art

1914

Natura morta (Still Life)

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

1916

Natura morta (Still Life)

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

1918

Natura morta (Still Life)

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

1919

Natura morta (Still Life)

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 Cézanne, as it appears strikingly similar to many of Cézanne'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 Cézanne, 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

1935

Paesaggio (Landscape)

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

1952

Still Life with Yellow Cloth

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

1953

Fiori (Flowers)

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

1953

Natura morta (Still Life)

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 Cézanne 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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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Sarah Archino

"Giorgio Morandi Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Sarah Archino
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First published on 13 Dec 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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