Painted in 1944, during one of the most intense years of the Second World War, Natura Morta is a beautifully elegant still-life by Giorgio Morandi. The year the picture was executed, Morandi only completed ten works, four of which can be grouped into the sequence to which Natura Morta belongs (Vitali 476-479). Belonging to the sparse production of an artist in the midst of war, Natura Morta presents a fascinating insight into the motives underpinning Morandi’s poetic vision.
Within this 1944 series, the present work is arguably the most restrained example, infused with a sense of balance and order. While in its sister pictures Morandi explored dramatic shadowing (V.576), tight horizontal framing (V.477) and the architectural possibilities of an unbalanced composition (V.479), in the present Natura morta, the artist seems to have achieved a more serene, open composition. While in the rest of the series, Morandi emphasised the sense of space by representing the table and the wall with two separate hues or through the use of shadows, in the present work the space surrounding the objects seems to merge into a hazy, warm light. Barely visible, the edges of the table are glimpsed in the two lower corners of the picture, while the ‘horizon’ line of the still-life lingers in the background, dividing the picture into thirds: of the whole series, the present work is the one that most closely attains the Golden Section, the classical number of perfect harmony, in its proportions.
Although Morandi would become renowned for his legendary solitude later in life, the latter years of the Second World War were to have a profound impact on his private life as Bologna itself started experiencing the direct impact of the war. On 16 July 1943, the city endured its first bombing, as the Allies tried to destroy a strategic railway hub connecting the South with the North of Italy. By the end of the war almost half of the city would be razed to the ground. To escape the destruction, Morandi, together with his mother and three sisters, took refuge in the countryside at Grizzana. There he spent most of 1943 painting a much-celebrated series of landscapes.
However, when in 1944 the area around Grizzana became the frontline of fighting between Allies and German troops, the Morandi family returned to Bologna, impatiently awaiting the end of the war.
In the light of the tumultuous events that in 1944 surrounded the artist’s studio, filled with its iconic dusty bottles and pots, Natura morta appears as a poignant declaration of Morandi’s artistic intentions. Despite the war, Morandi continued to express his poetic reflections on perception and representation, perusing the fragile boundaries between abstraction and representation. The bottles and pots offering only a pretext, Morandi's still-lives question the essence of art’s representation of life. For this reason, against the backdrop of a bombed, tormented Bologna, Morandi was able to carry out his work – albeit more precariously – probing the philosophical, eternal questions at the core of Western art which Natura morta so elegantly explores.