‘I am essentially a painter of the kind of still life composition that communicates a sense of tranquillity and privacy, moods which I have always valued above all else.’ – Giorgio Morandi
(Morandi, quoted in L. Keplac, Giorgio Morandi: The dimension of inner space, exh. cat., Sydney, 1997, p. 12)
Painted in 1946, Giorgio Morandi’s elegant still-life Natura morta resonates with the timeless sense of contemplation, absorption and invention that characterises the artist’s finest explorations into the poetic potential of the genre. Executed in delicate, radiant tones of ivory, soft pink, and luminous yellow, the composition centres on a small group of objects carefully arranged atop a table, featuring a small, fluted china bowl, an unusual spherical diffuser and a tall, conical bottle, all of which reappeared frequently in Morandi’s compositions of this period. Bathed in an even, muted light, which casts only the faintest of shadows at the edges of some of the vessels, the objects retain an enigmatic presence within the composition, exuding an invisible energy as if they are patiently waiting for something to happen. Held together with a delicate, mysterious internal tension, there is a sense that the smallest of movements would destroy the harmonious equilibrium and poise the artist has achieved in the configuration, a feeling enhanced by the manner in which the objects appear to hover precariously on the very edge of the table.
As with all of Morandi’s carefully composed still-lifes, the objects which populate the scene were drawn from the small collection of quotidian items that the artist surrounded himself with in his studio. Often sourced from local flea-markets in his hometown of Bologna, these seemingly random bottles, boxes, tins, vases, jugs, bowls, and clocks played the central protagonists in his compositions, occupying a variety of roles and positions. Morandi would typically eliminate all traces of an object’s former life before incorporating it into his paintings, removing labels from bottles of oil and boxes of tobacco, pouring white paint into glass vessels to reduce the play of reflections and light on their surfaces, and anonymising containers and tins by covering them in an even layer of matte paint. By divorcing them from their original, utilitarian functions in this way, Morandi allowed these objects to be considered on their formal properties alone, transforming them into an abstract study of line, colour, structure and form under his scrupulous gaze.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Morandi moved increasingly towards working in a serial manner, tackling the same subject over a number of canvases in order to examine the ways in which subtle variations in tone, lighting and arrangement could dramatically alter the perception of the objects before him. This approach required intense concentration and methodical analysis, in which every element of a scene was scrutinised, studied and evaluated before being committed to canvas. Indeed, Morandi often spent weeks at a time deciding on the arrangement of his still-lifes, contemplating the positioning of his chosen objects at length, from the exact spacing between each item to the precise angle at which their planes overlap, examining the serendipitous relationships that occurred as a result of different alignments. Morandi explored several different variations of the present grouping during this period (Vitali, nos. 506-509), introducing different vases and containers in some, radically altering the viewpoint in others. It is through this careful mix of measure, precision and contemplation that works such as Natura morta achieve their meditative timelessness and pure, poetic visual restraint.