Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more THE EYE OF THE ARCHITECT: PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTIONThe disciplines of architecture and painting have been intimately intertwined throughout history, two independent strands of creative thought that have nevertheless remained bound to one another by a common interest in how people experience the world around them. When considered in conjunction with one another, they can achieve a synergistic relationship, one in which the experience and appreciation of both the painting and the space they occupy are enhanced by their connection. The following selection of works from the collection of an esteemed European architect has been assembled with this concern in mind, each work having been chosen for its ability to complement and enrich the spaces they inhabit. Born from a keen sense of social responsibility, this architect’s forward-thinking vision was rooted in the grand tradition of socially engaged housing, creating unique buildings that place the welfare of residents above the flaunting of architectural form. Allowing ample space for vegetation to grow over their balconies and transform apartment blocks into living, vertical gardens, the resulting homes are places of beauty and contentment, with proximity to water and greenery fulfilling basic human needs as well as affording countless environmental benefits. In these buildings, the architect offered hope for a way of urban living that did not suffocate the natural world, but rather embraces an organic conception of growth, renewal and sustainability. The architect’s inventiveness, imagination and eye for detail find clear parallels in the art collection he formed over the course of his collecting life, acquiring pieces by some of the most celebrated masters of the twentieth-century avant-garde, from Pablo Picasso to Francis Bacon, Giorgio de Chirico to Joan Miró, and Fernand Léger to Giorgio Morandi. One of the most striking features of this varied group is the way in which the collector has managed to create a sense of unity amongst the works, choosing pieces of a similarly intimate scale and thematic concern to generate a dynamic dialogue between each of the pieces when considered together. Focusing primarily on figurative compositions, this tightly curated group of works not only reveals the collector’s discerning eye and architectural mind, but also his passion for artists who continuously sought to push the boundaries of tradition in their art. Indeed, many of the works in the collection date from pivotal periods of transition in each artists’ career, as they began to explore new, ground breaking techniques, subject matter or styles in their compositions. There is also a strong emphasis on form and construction in each of the compositions, and a fascination with the architecturally-minded approach to structure that feeds these artists' aesthetic practices. There is a clear focus on Cubism and its later developments, for example, from the carefully composed still-lifes of Picasso, Juan Gris and Georges Braque, to the visionary machine aesthetic of Léger which expanded upon the traditions of the Cubist language and adapted them to his own unique style following the First World War. The automatic, fluid language of Miró’s brand of Surrealism, meanwhile, is contrasted with the metaphysical contemplations of De Chirico’s dreamlike scenarios and cityscapes, which share the pensive atmosphere of Morandi’s highly subtle, architectural, still lifes. A rare example of Picasso’s Surrealist-influenced series of figures, meanwhile, finds echoes in Bacon’s disintegration of the human form, as the features of his model, Henriette Moraes, dissolve into an array of rich, expressive strokes of paint. Offering an intriguing insight into some of the most dynamic and exciting periods of the European artistic avant-garde, these works stand as a testament to the collector’s keen connoisseurial eye and deep appreciation for the connection between modern art and architecture.
Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)

Natura morta

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)
Natura morta
signed ‘Morandi’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
11 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (30 x 35.4 cm.)
Painted in 1957
Eugene Thaw, New York.
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva.
Albert Loeb Gallery, New York.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 27 June 1972, lot 51.
Private collection, Chicago.
Acquavella Galleries, New York.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired from the above in 1976.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1994.
L. Vitali, Morandi, Dipinti, Catalogo generale, vol. II, 1948-1964, Milan, 1983, no. 1061, n.p. (illustrated).
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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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

‘The feelings and images aroused by the visible world are very difficult to express or are perhaps inexpressible with words because they are determined by forms, colours, space, and light.’
(Morandi, quoted in P. Mangravite, ‘Interview with Giorgio Morandi’ in M. C. Bandera & R. Miracco, Morandi 1890-1964, exh. cat., New York & Bologna, 2008-9, p. 295).

‘I believe that we will fully understand the innovative capacity of Morandi, who painted something new every time, only when more sophisticated electronic instruments make it possible to realize how many unprecedented things his brush invented in the space of a millimetre from one painting to the next. The fact that when the same bottle appears alongside the same box in two different paintings it has a different story to tell us in each case is something we feel but cannot explain’
(Umberto Eco, quoted in M. C. Bandera & R. Miracco, Morandi 1890-1964, exh. cat., New York & Bologna, 2008-9, p. 344)

At first glance, Giorgio Morandi’s still-life paintings appear deceptively simple. At his studio and home in Bologna, he dedicated himself to depicting his beloved and carefully accumulated collection of quotidian objects. Yet, with closer scrutiny, the quiet, still, timeless worlds that these paintings present are in fact steeped in poetry and mystery; enigmatic, sometimes near abstract realms of colour, line and form. Morandi transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary; creating vast, expansive spaces filled with objects that are liberated from their utilitarian role, transformed into floating planes of colour. Balance, restraint and harmony characterise the greatest of these methodical, metaphysical paintings; the spaces in between and surrounding the protagonists imbued with a sense of grandeur and gravity that charge these still-lifes with an unexpected emotion. It is Giorgio de Chirico who perhaps best surmised this poetic power when he wrote in 1922: ‘[Morandi] tries to discover and create all by himself: he patiently grinds his pigments, stretches his canvases and looks around at the surrounding objects… He looks at a cluster of objects on a table with the same emotion stirring his heart as the ancient wanderer in ancient Greece felt as he gazed at groves, dales and hills, believed to be the abode of ravishing and astounding deities. He gazes with the eye of a believer, and the innermost bones of these things, dead to us because their life is stilled, appear to him in their most consoling guise: in their everlasting aspect’ (G. de Chirico, quoted in L. Klepac, Giorgio Morandi: the dimension of inner space, exh. cat., Sydney, 1997, p. 1).

The following three lots encapsulate the greatest of Morandi’s pictorial explorations. Dating from the artist’s highly acclaimed wartime period, Natura morta was painted in 1942, at a time during which the artist retreated to his studio and worked at a prolific pace. Spread frontally across the table top, like actors across a stage, and almost filling the entirety of the canvas, a variety of objects – elegant, long-necked bottles, majestic jugs, an austere cylindrical cup, as well as two boxes, said to be discarded Ovaltine canisters covered with paper and decorated with painted rectangles and ovals – serve as the protagonists of this complex composition, one of a series of eight closely related paintings (Vitali, nos. 374-381).

At the time that he painted Natura morta, Morandi had just begun to work in series, making subtle changes to his compositions by removing, adding, or moving, sometimes almost imperceptibly, his chosen repertoire of objects, and tracking these changes over a number of paintings. Describing this highly methodical and deeply contemplative practice, Morandi said, ‘It takes me weeks to make up my mind which group of bottles will go well with a particular coloured tablecloth. Then it takes me weeks of thinking about the bottles themselves, and yet often I still go wrong with the spaces. Perhaps I work too fast? Perhaps we all work too fast these days? A half dozen pictures would just about be enough for the life of an artist’ (Morandi, quoted in J. Herman, ‘A visit to Morandi’ in L. Klepac, ibid., p. 27). 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.

Another important and defining aspect of Natura morta and the wartime works is Morandi’s adoption of a new colour palette, as he sought to explore various combinations and tones of colour. Here, a harmonious array of soft yellow, subtle greys, terracotta and raspberry pink not only define the composition but imbue it with a sense of symphonic unity. In addition to this carefully deployed use of colour, pattern – a somewhat rare feature in Morandi’s oeuvre – also abounds in the present work. This array of humble and quotidian objects has been reconstituted into a carefully orchestrated arrangement of line and colour. The paper boxes with their vacant lozenge-shaped labels, the strange checkerboard object that stands in front of the pewter coloured jug, and the white handle of the pink jug that creates a vibrant stripe down the plane of pink, all work in dynamic accord in this painting.

By contrast, the two later Natura morta, from 1949 and 1957 respectively, encapsulate the enveloping serenity that would come to define Morandi’s later works. In both of these paintings, a palette of subtly nuanced, extremely delicate colour, applied with thick, generous impasto lends these increasingly abstract works a dreamlike quality. In Natura morta of 1949, the objects stand tightly clustered in the centre of the composition. As is typical of works from this time, the distinctions between the backdrop and the tabletop have started to become blurred; the grey horizon line seems almost to melt into the vertical background. The objects themselves have been depicted with soft outlines, creating the impression that they are not observed from reality, but are instead the hazy impressions of a subjective vision, their forms seeming to dissolve and co-exist into the space around them. The feature that stops this composition turning into a wholly abstract world of strange indefinable space, colour and paint is the right-hand edge of the table top on which the vessels are placed. The line plunges into the composition, creating a vertiginous drop and lending the subtlest sense of pictorial depth to this otherworldly painting.

Bathed in a pale, almost ethereal light, the composition of the 1957 Natura morta showcases one of Morandi’s most famous and oft-used objects: the white spiral fluted vase. This lovingly rendered, unexpectedly poetic object stands surrounded by three variously coloured and positioned rectangular boxes. Made from cardboard, these simple, architectonic objects were, like the fluted vase, one of Morandi’s favourite compositional features at this time, inspired perhaps by a visit in 1956 to see Chardin’s Jeune homme construisant un château de cartes, in the Oskar Reinhart collection, Winterthur. Chardin’s famous painting depicts a boy carefully constructing a rectangular house of cards; a structure that is akin to the fragile paper constructions that can be seen in the present work. Partly concealing the objects behind, these hollow, paper boxes have a statuesque, architectonic and weighty quality that is at odds with their weightless material. With a simplicity and overwhelming harmony, Natura morta embodies the overarching paradox that defines Morandi’s painting: seemingly objective and straightforward depictions of the world, his work is in fact deeply subjective, offering elusive, abstract and mysterious visions that consistently elude outright comprehension; their meanings remain as blurred as the lines of their subjects.

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