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

Natura Morta

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)
Natura Morta
signed and dated 'Morandi 1941' (lower right)
oil on canvas
8 3/8 x 18 7/8 in. (21.3 x 46.8 cm.)
Painted in 1941
Carlo Ponti, Rome, by 1970.
Private collection, Bologna.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
L. Vitali, Morandi, Catalogo Generale, 1913/1947, vol. I, Milan, 1977, no. 295 (illustrated).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Giorgio Morandi, December 1970 - January 1971, no. 45, pp. 17 & 54 (illustrated fig. 56); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée national d'Art moderne, February - April 1971.
Milan, Rotonda di via Besana, Giorgio Morandi, May - June 1971, no. 52 (illustrated p. 67).
Bologna, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Mostra Giorgio Morandi, May - June 1975, no. 23 (illustrated).
Bologna, Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, Morandi 1890-1964, January - April 2009, no. 59 (illustrated).

Lot Essay


'Morandi, as everyone knows, draws, trying out the plans of his compositions, calculating in this way the occupation of the planes and the volumes, establishing the right distance, stepping back or zooming in on the background, the sides, the top and the bottom with respect to the dimensions, evaluating the orientation and the correlation of the objects, creating a pattern of shadows and light - and can be reconstructed in different elevations and horizontal or oblique cutaways, in a synthesis which, once critically explained, gives the viewer an idea of the immense value of a construction that is, as I said, wholly architectural, so much so that it should prompt us to speak of cathedrals rather than of bottles'

With its rare, elongated horizontal format, Giorgio Morandi's 1941 Natura morta perfectly encapsulates the notion that the Bolognese painter's still life images were a form of internal landscape. The cluster of carefully-positioned vessels, shown with the matt light that resulted from the dust of Morandi's studio, combine within the context of the canvas to invoke a monumentality, recalling the mediaeval cities and hill-towns that are still scattered through Italy. This landscape was formerly in the collection of the celebrated film producer Carlo Ponti, the husband of the actress Sophia Loren, showing the increasing estimation in which Morandi's works were held in the post-war era, a development that reached an apotheosis when his pictures were visible in the background of Federico Fellini's famous 1960 film, La dolce vita. Ponti and Loren assembled an incredible collection of works over the decades, including pictures by artists such as Francis Bacon and Amedeo Modigliani.

Looking at Natura morta, the viewer is transported into the timeless atmosphere of Morandi's apartment in Bologna, where he had the assembled vessels which featured as a rotating cast in his paintings. The cast in Natura morta is particularly pertinent: in 1941, a year of wartime anxiety and austerity, Morandi created a small group of pictures which explored variations of layout between the same vessels as shown here, for instance the Natura morta from the Jucker collection in Milan. The incredible subtleties behind the process of conception of Morandi's works becomes all the clearer by comparison between these works: the angles are only a tiny bit different, the gaps between the vessels adjusted with minimal interventions, resulting in variations between the works that recall those explored by classical composers such as Bach and Beethoven who took the same base elements as the springboard for various improvisations and digressions. Indeed, that musical dimension is echoed by the progression of vessels that traverses the canvas of Natura morta and its sister pictures, appearing like musical annotations, each with small differences that allow the artist to vary and explore the tensions between each of the elements depicted.

By the time he painted Natura morta in 1941, Morandi had developed the style which has now become so associated with him, with earthy, clay-like colours such as ochre dominating his palette and the various elements depicted with broad brushstrokes which sometimes, as here, give a sense of both the artist's vitality in creating his image and also of the shimmering appearance of a mirage. This adds an intriguing ethereality to the picture. Earlier in his career, under the influence in part of his great hero Paul Cézanne, Morandi had explored his various motifs in a more rigid and intellectual manner; this was accentuated during the time of his brief involvement with Pittura Metafisica, when his works were linked to those of the painters associated with Valori Plastici such as Giorgio de Chirico, his brother Alberto Savinio and Carlo Carrà. Gradually, though, Morandi discarded the stylisations of that period and of those artists, instead adopting a softer and more atmospheric treatment reminiscent of the pictures of Chardin. In a sense, Morandi removed himself from the theoretical battles that raged within the art world during the period running up to and including the Second World War, just as he removed himself from the world of politics, instead creating a style that was perfectly suited to his quest for pictures that were essentially timeless and universal such as Natura morta .

The scumbled light and unifying sense of dustiness that feature in Natura morta and many of Morandi's other great still life compositions from this more mature period of his career reflected the reality of the artist's studio, where he had gradually honed the conditions and collected the containers in order to be able to carry out his artistic investigations. The scholar John Rewald, who was an expert on the work of Caezanne, would recall his own visit, some time after Natura morta was painted, describing the studio in terms that provide an insight into the ambience reflected in this picture: '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. They cluttered any available space, except for the two simple easels; they were either crowded together haphazardly, or else, here and there, assembled more loosely in balanced compositions... They must have been there for a long time; 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, grey, velvety dust, like a soft coat of felt, its colour and texture seemingly providing the unifying element for these tall bottles and deep bowls, old pitchers and coffee pots, quaint vases and tin boxes. It was a dust that was not the result of negligence and untidiness but of patience, a witness to complete peace. In the stillness of this humble retreat from all the excitement of an agitated world, these everyday objects led their own, still life' (J. Rewald, 'Visit with Morandi', quoted in J.J. Rishel, 'Morandi and America: A Brief Survey of His Fortunes in the English-Speaking World', pp. 51-58, in ibid., p. 52).
Rewald's account evokes both the appearance and the atmosphere of Natura morta, which has an air of timelessness about it. At the same time, the spirituality of the objects displayed is perhaps emphasised by their contained monumentality. Morandi's influences in his paintings were hugely varied, and included such things as the folds in drapery in Piero della Francesca's paintings or the miniaturised image of Bologna proffered up by Saint Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna, in Lorenzo Costa the Elder's painting of the Madonna and child between him and Saint Tecla, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna. That link to architecture is clear in Natura morta in the arrangement of the vessels, which recall cityscapes and the skylines of old settlements. Indeed, the coffee pot appears like a church with its conical form and domed top crested with a finial-like know; the other objects jostle like the famous due torri and other towers of Morandi's native Bologna. At the same time, the entire composition has a balance that recalls the images of the Cittideale, the ideal city created in several paintings apparently commissioned by Federico, the Duke of Montefeltro based in Urbino who was so linked to Piero della Francesca, the Quattrocento painter so revered by Morandi. Indeed, Natura morta recalls the composition of the example now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. That sense of utopia is recalled in Natura morta in Morandi's incredible and subtle positioning of the various elements, through which he has managed to mine an incredible sense of harmony. 'After all,' as he himself said, 'even a still life is architecture' (Morandi, quoted in M.C. Bandera, 'Giorgio Morandi Today', pp. 24-45, M.C. Bandera & R. Miracco (ed.), Morandi: 1890-1964, Bologna & New York, 2008, p. 33).

More from The Italian Sale

View All
View All