‘Nature is no longer the model for this painter… He not only chooses his models, he builds them… It is nature that must bend to art and not art to nature’
Huddled together amidst the seemingly endless plane of the tabletop, across which their dark shadows stretch ghost-like and ephemeral, the three protagonists of Giorgio Morandi’s Natura morta of 1950 are at once identifiable, quotidian objects yet at the same time, abstract configurations of soft, luminous colour. This compelling dichotomy between reality and abstraction defines Morandi’s work of the post-war era. Using lavish swathes of paint, he often blurred the edges of the objects in his still-lifes so that they appear to float within an indefinable space, seemingly dissolving into one another and their setting. As a result, these works are infused with a beguiling yet subtle poeticism, inspired by nature and yet transcending the genre of the still-life to become symphonic visions of colour and light.
Having remained in the same family’s collection for over half a century, the present Natura morta was formerly owned by Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, a renowned art historian, critic and theorist, and close confidant of Morandi. A friend of the artist since the early 1930s, Ragghianti was a prominent anti-fascist and one of the founders of the Partito d’Azione. Indeed, it was Morandi’s friendship with the writer that led to his brief arrest in 1943 during a crackdown on anti-fascist activities. The police had found letters from the artist among Ragghianti’s possessions, and so assumed that he too was part of this resistance group. Following the war, Ragghianti became a prominent figure within the Italian art world, working both as a professor as well as the founder and director of the art magazine ‘seleArte’. He perceptively described Morandi’s work, writing in an essay of 1954, ‘Morandi’s painting, despite appearing in front of the viewer as one of the most stable and comparatively simple among the works of the modern era, is amongst the most complex and articulate, with a deep meaning’ (C.L. Ragghianti, Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1990, exh. cat., Milan, 1990, p. 366).