Research point: Giorgio Morandi

Still life with a green box

Still life with a green box

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) was an Italian painter, draughtsman and printmaker, who lived all his life at his family home in Bologna, working in his bedroom.  This creates a fitting context for a man who worked in an almost claustrophobically contained manner for much of his life. Although he did make occasional excursions into landscape, the main focus of his work was still life – most commonly bottles, boxes, jugs and jars – ‘characterised by subtle combinations of colour within a narrow tonal range’ (Masters, 2012).  Still life with a green box illustrates Morandi’s preference for tightly controlled composition, with almost everything depicted here fitting within an assembled rectangle of objects.  Morandi’s still lifes were ‘typically arranged like a group portrait, with two rows, one in front of another. They form close and nervous families – huddled, withdrawn. They appear in numerous variations on this theme’ (Lubbock, 2009).  Whether or not this shines a light on his familial circumstances, it does support the notion that much of Morandi’s life was a microcosm lived at close quarters, with all his thoughts, feelings and ideas channelled into a small range of objects, studied in subtly changing permutations almost obsessively.

Metaphysical Still Life, 1919, oil on canvas

Metaphysical Still Life, 1919, oil on canvas

Morandi experimented briefly with metaphysical painting, c.1918-19 (see above).  This was ‘characterised by dreamlike perspectival settings, containing a range of apparently unrelated objects’ (Masters, 2012).  His works in this style tend to have a somewhat sharper and more assertive feel than his subsequent pictures.

However, preferring not to align himself with any particular group or movement, Morandi ‘continued to pursue his own idea of natural truth’ (Pacini, 2012).  In doing this, he focused on form, space, light, scale, and relationships, returning to the same objects repeatedly in his search for the ‘perfect order’.

Still Life with Jugs, 1956, etching

Still Life with Jugs, 1956, etching

It is interesting to look at Morandi’s etchings, as they give a clearer indication of the fineness of his drawings.  In Still Life with Jugs (see above), he works in tightly controlled hatching and cross-hatching.  Contrasting tones are far more sharply delineated here than in his paintings, too.

Still Life, c.1952, oil on canvas

Still Life, c.1952, oil on canvas

‘”Nothing is more abstract than reality,” he said, and his subject became a kind of 3D abstraction, reducing a range of domestic objects to simple solids, elements that bear shape, tone, colour, composition’ (Lubbock, 2009).

There is a timelessness to Morandi’s paintings.  These restrained images evoke simplicity and stillness.  The consistently muted colours ensure that our attention is directed towards the forms.  Highlights are rare, and generally subdued where they do exist.  At times, paint is applied so thickly that it results in a semi-abstract effect.  This contemplative approach borders on the monastic in its spareness, and allows him to ‘investigate the essence of the object’ to its fullest extent (Pacini, 2012).  From studying Morandi, I will take away the power that lies in considered composition, and the benefits of working with a restrained palette.

References:

Lubbock, T. (2009) ‘Great Works: Still Life (1953) Giorgio Morandi’, Independent, 24 July 2009, [Online], Available at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/great-works-still-life-1953-giorgio-morandi-1758344.html   (Accessed 16 Dec 2012).

Masters, C. (2012) Giorgio Morandi [Online], Oxford Art Online, Available at http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e1792?q=giorgio+morandi&search=quick&pos=2&_start=1#firsthit  (Accessed 16 Dec 2012).

Master, C. (2012) metaphysical painting [Online], Oxford Art Online, Available at http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e1730 (Accessed 16 Dec 2012).

Pacini, P. (2012) Morandi, Giorgio [Online], Oxford Art Online, Available at http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T059488?q=giorgio+morandi&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit  (Accessed 16 Dec 2012).

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