‘People think a sugar bowl has no physiognomy, no soul. But that changes every day, too [as with people]. You have to know how to take them, coax them, those fellows’
‘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’
With rich, luxurious strokes of paint, Morandi has depicted four pieces – the small striped ball in the foreground one of his favourite protagonists – upon a pale tabletop, positioning them at eye level so that we the viewer are engaged in an intimate dialogue with these everyday objects. While each object is recognisable – two bowls, the ball and the lower half of an oil lamp – they appear simultaneously as a pattern of harmonious tones spread against the width of the canvas. Natura morta was painted in 1946, after the end of the Second World War, when Morandi had returned to Bologna from the Emilian countryside and had begun to teach once more at the Accademia di Belle Arti. It was during this period that Morandi’s renown reached new levels, with his works fetching ever higher prices, and his art featured in a host of one-man shows across Europe.
Throughout his career, Morandi dedicated himself entirely to the depiction of nature. The still-life was therefore the primary vehicle for his artistic investigations, allowing him to discover through the intense, almost meditative study of objects, a world of abstraction, enigma, harmony and beauty. In many ways this artistic goal was akin to the great post-Impressionist, Paul Cézanne, an artist whom Morandi greatly admired. Just as in Cézanne’s revered still-lives, illusionism is replaced by the artist’s desire to convey exactly what he saw in front of him, in Morandi’s depictions of object-filled tabletops, the same pictorial ambiguities occur.
In the present Natura morta, the rim of the white pot in the centre is uneven, while the shadow between this and the blue bowl next to it appears dense and weighty, as if carving into the smooth white surface of the vessel. Indeed, even the tabletop is not as it seems; the edge dissolving into the dark background on the left of the composition. Just as his predecessor had done, Morandi shows that representation is an unstable concept; an artifice that can be distorted and shaped depending on the artist’s will. If these objects are likened to a troop of actors lined up upon a stage, standing frontal and bathed in light, then they are not acting out reality, but are unreliable narrators taking part in a strange fiction of life.