Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)
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Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)

Natura morta

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)
Natura morta
signed and dated 'Morandi 1929' (lower right)
oil on canvas
13¾ x 19 1/8in. (34.8 x 48.5cm.)
Painted in 1929
A. Soffici, Poggio a Caiano.
Thence by descent to his heirs.
Marie-Louise Jeanneret Art Moderne, Geneva (608).
Acquired directly from the above by the father of the present owner circa 1978.
A. Beccaria, Giorgio Morandi, Milan 1939, pl. XXIV (illustrated).
C. Brandi, Morandi, Florence 1942 (1st ed.) pl. XXXIII (illustrated); Florence 1952 (2nd ed.) pl. XXXIV (illustrated).
G. Scheiwiller, Giorgio Morandi, Turin 1943, pl. XI (illustrated).
L. Vitali, Morandi, Catalogo generale 1913/1947, vol. I, Milan 1983, no. 147 (illustrated).
Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, I Quadriennale d'Arte Nazionale, January-June 1931 (illustrated p. 182).
Geneva, Marie-Louise Jeanneret Art Moderne, Giorgio Morandi, November 1977-January 1978, no.1 (illustrated p. 4 and in colour p. 15).
Paris, Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain, Giorgio Morandi, 20-29 October 1978, no. 1.
Zug, Kunsthaus Zug (on loan since 1992).
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Giorgio Morandi, April-July 2000, no. 3.
Vevey, Musée Jenisch, A l'écoute du visible, Giorgio Morandi/Alexandre Hollan, May-August 2001, no. 1 (illustrated in colour).
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Lot Essay

Natura morta is a landmark work that demonstrates Morandi's emergence as a mature artist, and combines for almost the first time his unique appreciation of composition with his fully developed pictorial style. Indeed, the blue and white vase on the left of Natura morta ('Still Life'), painted in 1929, seems almost baroque for Giorgio Morandi's tastes. Although it features in several of his paintings, here it is emphasised by being contrasted with the round glass bottle on the other end. Morandi has created an intricate play of colour and texture reminiscent of the works of Vermeer and Chardin. Morandi himself said that these artists had become great influences on his work during the 1920s, but it is seldom as evident as in Natura morta's play of texture, glass and colour. As well as the subtleties of artistic treatment, Chardin and Vermeer had a huge impact on the very nature of Morandi's still-lifes. After his brief dalliance with the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, Morandi learnt to portray a new sense of stillness through the subtlest means. It is interesting to note that even at the height of his Metafisica stage, Morandi only ever painted normal objects - bottles, tailors' dummies and so forth - against identifiable backgrounds, eschewing the often more fantastic scenery of de Chirico and Carrà. The change in Morandi's art was largely stylistic, not conceptual. Morandi managed to retain and augment the metaphysical tension of his earlier works through more subtle means, using the same props - with the exception of the dummy. It was, however, only in the late 1920s that Morandi truly managed to attain the tranquillity and tightness of style and composition that lends Natura morta its strength.
The timing of Morandi's interest in Northern artists like Vermeer and Chardin is strange as he was then linked to the Novecento Italiano movement and even exhibited with them the year Natura morta was painted. The proponents of this movement advocated a new yet conservative form of Italian art, but significantly tried in the large part to look to former Italian masters. Morandi, however, has always defied easy categorisation and his arcane, personal paintings have little to do with the political motivations and machinations of the group. He simply painted and etched and from 1929 was increasingly able to do precisely that, when he secured the post of professor of etching at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna. This appointment lent him a certain amount of kudos and recognition, but more importantly a moderate financial security that allowed him to live the hermitic life he preferred. Painting daily in his simple cell-like studio-bedroom in the residence he shared with his sisters, the simple repetitive habits of his lifestyle imbued his works with the sense of calm and meditation he had always sought and would always retain.
Morandi set himself extremely high standards and was his own harshest critic, often destroying the works he deemed unsatisfactory. Natura morta is, on the other hand, a work that Morandi clearly thought successful as it was one of only three paintings he exhibited in the inaugural Quadriennale d'Arte Nazionale in Rome in 1931 to represent his art. Suggested by the government and ratified by royal decree, the Quadriennale was the great new forum for Italian art - usually of a certain state-approved flavour. Morandi acquitted himself moderately well with a minor prize. The overall winner was his friend Ardengo Soffici, a Tuscan at the forefront of another movement with which Morandi had links, the Strapaese. This group of artists was committed to promoting local values through local art - and was essentially an ultra-patriotic movement aiming to promote a return to the traditional ways.
Soffici, who came to own Natura morta, had been linked with, and played a large part in the success of, movements ranging from Futurism to Metafisica and Novecento. As early as 1920 he had been urged to write favourably on Morandi by their mutual friends Carrà and de Chirico, however actual friendship between Morandi and Soffici only truly blossomed around 1928. Soffici was a major art critic but far less of a talent as a painter. The former role probably secured him his prize at the Quadriennale, as he was credited with being the backbone of Italian art in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Morandi himself repeatedly asserted that Soffici was one of the greatest influences on his work.
Soffici was no less impressed with Morandi, and wrote one of the best descriptions of his work, saying only three years after Natura morta was painted that 'a sort of religiosity presides over this artist's creation… whether presenting a landscape or some fruit, always and first of all a sense of love and of meditation emerges that is not far from prayer' (from L'Italiano, VII, no.10, Bologna, 1932, pp.VI-X). Soffici and Morandi shared many artistic interests, not least the French master of the art naïf, Henri 'Le Douanier' Rousseau. One Rousseau still-life in particular, owned by Soffici, influenced both artists, receiving tribute in some early Morandi still-lifes in the gas-lamp often depicted, but receiving more obvious homage from Soffici, who painted a copy only shortly after Natura morta was executed. In fact, Soffici's own words on Rousseau apply almost equally to the Morandi painting that he owned: 'Rousseau, who does not reason but works from his first impulse and according to his particular mode of conception, had understood this truth, that in art all is permitted and legitimate, that each object contributes to the sincere expression of a state of mind' (Soffici, Trenta artisti moderni italiani e stranieri, Florence, 1950, p.74). Although Morandi spent a great amount of time arranging the objects he would paint, when it came to the act he painted his mind. This is exemplified in the great balance of colour and form in Natura morta. The apostrophes of the blue and white vase and the blue bottle on each end thrust forward the interplay colour, he has also used the sheen of the blue bottle to pick up the almost opaque, colourless glass of the shaped vessel. These different treatments of glass and material facilitate Morandi's exploration of the space within the painting. He has blurred the edges and gaps of several of the objects, allowing them to blend despite their apparent separation. This in itself is the crux of the composition - Morandi, through the slight trace of the large red-brown vessel that peeps through the glass, confronts the viewer with the essential isolation of each object, regardless of their complex interplay. He shows the relationships between the different objects merely in order to emphasise their essential self-containment. Natura morta is both a disarmingly frank yet ground-breaking still-life and an intriguing testimony to the tastes and activities of two of the most important figures - creator and owner - in Twentieth Century Italian art.



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