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

Natura morta

Details
Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)
Natura morta
signed ‘Morandi’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
14 x 17 7/8 in. (35.6 x 45.4 cm.)
Painted in 1950
Provenance
Galleria del Milione, Milan (no. 5827).
Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, Florence.
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner, circa 1950.
Literature
L. Vitali, Morandi, Catalogo generale, vol. II, 1948-1964, Milan, 1977, no. 745 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, Pittura italiana contemporanea in Germania, 1951, no. 299.
Livorno, Casa della Cultura, 50 Artisti degli ultimi 30 anni, 1958.
Prato, Palazzo Pretorio, Pittura italiana contemporanea nelle collezioni di Prato, 1958, no. 68 (dated '1948').
Marina di Massa, Mostra di Pittura Italiana Contemporanea, 1959.
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

‘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, quoted in L. Keplac, Giorgio Morandi: the dimension of inner space, exh. cat., Sydney, 1997, p. 12).

Filled with a serene sense of stillness, Giorgio Morandi’s 1950 composition Natura morta embodies the silent, meditative nature that characterised the artist’s iconic still lifes in the aftermath of the Second World War. Focusing on an eclectic array of vessels and containers arranged in a loose grouping atop a non-descript table, the deceptively simple composition becomes a masterful study of form, line, colour and light, in which every element is analysed in depth by the artist before making a single mark on the canvas. 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 waiting for something to happen. While the group is closely huddled together on the table top, each object maintains its own individuality within the composition, their forms clearly distinguishable from one another by their distinctive colouring and the unique quirks of their shape. Carefully positioned in a diagonal line across the table-top, the collection of containers advance towards us in a precisely paced procession, their undulating heights and elegant forms creating a visual rhythm that flows through the painting and draws us into the quiet, timeless world they inhabit.

As with all of Morandi’s still-lifes, the objects which populate the scene were personally selected by the artist from the small collection of items he kept in his studio. Often sourced from local flea-markets in his hometown of Bologna, these seemingly random bottles, boxes, tins, vases and pots, were recurrent characters in his compositions, appearing in different guises and arrangements throughout his oeuvre. In most cases, they suggest a domesticity, as if they have been pulled from the kitchen or living room of Morandi’s home and appropriated for his artistic vision. However, by entering the world of the painter’s still-lifes, they stand outside their original, intended function and instead become independent studies in shape, line, and colour. To aid this, Morandi would eliminate all traces of an object’s former life before incorporating it into a scene, 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 extracting them from their original context in this manner, Morandi allows them to stand primarily as abstract objects, considered on their formal merits alone, rather than objects which have a narrative associated with them. Matthew Gale has detected in their dislocation a certain melancholy, as they are no longer part of the hub-bub of everyday life, but rather just inanimate objects, studiously analysed by the artist in his studio, and left to gather dust on a shelf in between painting appearances (M. Gale, ‘White Bottle – Red Earth,’ in Giorgio Morandi, exh. cat., London, 2001, p. 92).

One of a series of three closely related compositions that explore the same condensed grouping of bottles and vases (Vitali Nos. 744 – 746), the present lot illustrates the serial nature of Morandi’s painterly practice during the late 1940s and early 1950s, as he set out to examine the manner in which subtle variations in tone, lighting, and arrangement could dramatically alter the visual perception of the objects before him. This approach required intense concentration and methodical analysis, in which every element 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. In addition, he often adjusted his perspective of a particular scene from one canvas to the next, sometimes viewing the objects from an angle, sometimes from a height or, in the case of the present work, observing the still life almost at eye level, placing himself as close to his cast of characters as he possibly could. As Vitale Bloch eloquently explained, ‘He who looks below the surface knows that hardly two of Morandi’s still lifes are similar. It is the miracle of his genius that out of the humblest boxes, tin cans, outmoded oil lamps, and dusty bottles, emerge works of art full of poetry and often most justly called “songs without words”’ (V. Bloch, ‘Introduction’, Giorgio Morandi: Paintings and Prints, exh. cat., London, 1954, n.p.).

For Morandi, every new arrangement, no matter how subtle the adjustments to the placement or spacing of objects, to the precise viewpoint or angle at which they were captured, represented a new, individual challenge. The depth of the artist’s preparatory analysis, combined with his keen skills of observation, ensured that although his works focused on a small repetoire of objects, they never repeated themselves. It was a hazard the artist was acutely aware of throughout his career, stating in an interview with Edouard Roditi: ‘I have always concentrated on a far narrower field of subject-matter than most other painters, so that the danger of repeating myself has been far greater. I think I have avoided this danger by devoting more time and thought to planning each one of my paintings as a variation on one or the other of these few themes’ (Morandi, speaking to E. Roditi in 1958, quoted in E. Roditi, Dialogues: Conversations with European Artists at Mid-Century, San Francisco, 1990, p. 107). Instead, with each subtle shift in his viewpoint Morandi revealed the apparently infinite visual possibilities that lay in any grouping, with each minute adjustment proposing an entirely different composition or perception of the objects. It is this careful measure, precision and contemplation that lends a work such as Natura morta its sense of meditative timelessness and pure, poetic visual restraint.

Purchased shortly after its creation, Natura morta has remained in the same collection for almost seven decades. According to family legend, the painting was purchased on the advice of the acclaimed Italian critic, historian and theoretician, Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti. An important champion of Morandi’s painting during the post-war period, Ragghianti encouraged the father of the present owners to purchase the work following an exhibition at the innovative exhibition space at the Galleria Strozzina in Florence. Putting all his trust in Ragghianti’s promise that Morandi was an exceptional talent destined for greatness, the intrepid collector invested his funds in the painting, choosing to buy it in place of a house.

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