With its soft, luminous colour palette, gently diffused light and flat expanses of thickly applied paint, Giorgio Morandi’s Natura morta encapsulates the quintessential qualities of the artist’s late work. A sense of serenity and poetic simplicity abounds in this compactly configured and highly restrained still-life. Set atop a table within a similarly coloured, expansive background, the collection of quotidian objects lose their utilitarian function, transformed through Morandi’s intense and scrupulous gaze into abstract planes of colour that float within an undefined and seemingly infinite space.
Painted in 1953, Natura morta is one of a series of three paintings from this year that depict this intimately arranged repertoire of objects. Clustered together in the centre of the composition stand three variously coloured boxes, two of which are rectangular, and one cylindrical. These simple geometric forms were made, possibly by the artist himself, from cardboard, and had started to appear in his work at around this time; fragile yet statuesque forms with which the artist constructed his compositions. Behind this frontal line up appears the elegant, fluted neck of a white bottle – a repeated protagonist of Morandi’s works –flanked by a grey cup. These objects are arranged in an almost identical ensemble in the other two works of this series (Vitali, nos. 865 and 866). Yet, subtle, almost imperceptible changes differentiate these still-lifes, namely the viewpoint of each painting, which shifts ever so slightly from being predominantly frontal, to increasingly aerial, altering the forms of the shadows that cross the right side of the composition.
Following the Second World War, Morandi worked increasingly in series, depicting the same group of objects with subtle variations. Though seemingly insignificant, the smallest of alterations often had a seismic impact on the painting itself. Arranged with such deep and methodical thought, the objects in Natura morta are endowed with a monumental presence, the minute details and shadowy spaces between the meticulously placed objects assuming a central importance within the composition as a whole. This poetic intensity, created from the most humble and quotidian of objects was one of Morandi’s fundamental aims: ‘Even in as simple a subject’ he explained, ‘a great painter can achieve a majesty of vision and an intensity of feeling to which we immediately respond’ (E. Roditi, ‘Giorgio Morandi’ in M. C. Bandera & R. Miracco, Morandi 1890-1964, exh. cat., New York and Bologna, 2008-9, p. 358).