Giorgio Morandi was a printmaker, draftsman, and painter during the 20th century. He was known for his still-life paintings which depicted ordinary objects such as bowls, vases, seashells, flowers, and views of different places. He was particularly interested in painting white-washed houses in untidy settings and portraiture. However, it cannot be denied that Morandi had done a remarkable job in painting bright yet pale paintings of simple subjects.
Giorgio Morandi’s specialty was to transform ordinary objects into a magnificent art work. Choosing genre painting allowed him to produce a thousand of paintings, with medium ranging from etching, drawing, and oil painting. From his own words, “I am essentially a painter of the kind of still life composition that communicates a sense of tranquility and privacy, moods which I have always valued above all else”. He was also an academician in Bologna, Italy and exhibited at various galleries and museums such as the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London.
Beyond the seemingly simplistic art, Giorgio Morandi put poetic value in his works. Those paintings were drawn in an amusingly poetic manner through objects’ luminous and pale colors. A fine example of this is the Still Life of Vases on a Table of 1931. The portrait may be arranged simply with its single line of vases separated by pale, white spaces. Another angle to look at the arrangement is the fact that the gaps seemed to reveal another line of vases. Morandi definitely tries to replace perplexity with pleasure by the discovery of such an optical illusion, and more importantly, the real message is “less is everything”.
Through Morandi’s dream-like paintings, he reinforced the notion that artists are like monks living in a remote place trying to turn away from the worldly interests and temptations. His real life would even attest to this because he lived in the same Bologna apartment from his early 20’s until his death. He did not even travel overseas, avoided politics, and distanced himself from those recognitions as though he was hiding from the world.
No wonder Morandi’s works are mainly composed of still-life objects and landscapes. Few examples included Natura Morta (1943), Grande natura morta con la lampada e petrolio, Still Life (1956), among many other prints and drawings.
Giorgio Morandi was born in July 20, 1890 in Bologna, Italy to Maria Maccaferri and Andrea Morandi. Little is known about Giorgio’s earliest interest in art because his family moved from one place to another frequently during his boyhood. When his two younger siblings were born his family moved to Avesella.
In 1907, the young Morandi attended the Accademia di Belle Art di Bologna. He finished his fine art course until 1913. Within those school years he learned about several contemporary art books on a few artistic movements such as Impressionism. He was particularly influenced by Henri Rousseau, Georges Seurat and Paul Cezanne. He practiced the painting methods developed during the 14th century and taught himself how to etch based on the works of Rembrandt. He had also read the writings by Ardengo Soffici and at one point saw the Venice Biennale of 1910.
In 1911, Giorgio Morandi visited Rome to see the works of French painters there such as Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet. During this period he also went to Florence to see the public exhibitions of Futurism painters such as Umberto Boccioni as well as the works of Florentine Old Masters Piero della Francesca, Giotto, and Masaccio. Before World War I, among many art movements, Futurism would have a profound influence on him but chose to digress around 1914.
It is said that on Morandi’s spare time, he would study drawing by himself. Although living in solitary life he was open to accept new ideas coming in and out of Bologna art scene. Artists like Mario Bacchelli and Osvaldo Licini were quite influential at the time. He chose to work with the writer Bacchelli and Giuseppe Raimondi to produce images for La Raccolta, a local magazine. Through his work with the magazine, Rome-based review publisher Valori Plasitici, came into contact with Morandi through Broglio around 1918.
As with many of his contemporaries during World War I, Giorgio Morandi joined the army voluntarily. However, unfortunately, he suffered a mental breakdown which caused him to be taken out of service immediately. He lived through the wary and his painting style had changed. The still life subjects became purer in form and looked dream-like similar to the styles of popular Impressionists like Henri Rousseau and Paul Cezanne. According to art critics, this might be Morandi’s way of paying homage to these artists because they had a significant impact on his artistic development.
After the war, during the 1920’s onward, Giorgio Morandi would find himself invested into metaphysical painting. It began in 1918 and lasted up to 1922 because the art movement itself was rather short-lived. It is believed that this change in artistic direction and style was his last before he decided to focus on painting portraits with pale gradations. In 1918, he started working on a series of metaphysical paintings which was collectively called Pittura Metafisica.
Morandi’s metaphysical art was however concentrated on what is tangible as compared to how Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra applied the principles of the said movement. For example, Morandi composed objects with bolder outlines and formal arrangements to give them a life on their own, to lead the audience’s gaze. There was clearly an attempt in heightening depth and perspective similar to traditional paintings. The works by Piero della Francesca must have influenced his spatial knowledge and techniques, especially when talking about the spatial relations of light and forms against an object. These elements are all vital in articulating a still life subject and its perceived nature.
It is also worth mentioning that his travels around Florence and contact with the Roman magazine Valori Plastici helped him reflect on the emerging art trend at the time. The early 1920’s had been about the artists’ attempt to revive the classics but the avant-garde artists would always be there to protest against it. At this point of his career, he deviated from Impressionism because he wanted to depict simple objects in an infinite space that was free from impressionistic attributes.
Giorgio Morandi began to receive exhibition invites from 1926 to 1929 by art groups like Novecento Italiano and Strapaese. Morandi seemed to have favored the latter because of its goal to depict the authentic local touches of color in their works above everything else. However, art critics gave little recognition onto his works at the time but renowned critics like Cesare Brandi and Ardengo Soffici thought that his works had potential. They realized that Morandi’s art had significant value of the intimacy of his emotion and still life objects. This impression encouraged the painter to paint the subjects in a more elaborate manner, which as a result, gave new deeper meanings to these rather mundane objects.
During the late 1920’s, Morandi’s works became more impressive. Other critics and the general audience took notice of his work as elusive despite its simplicity and mysterious. Ordinary pots, boxes and bottles became more than just objects but a meaningful subject matter to give a spellbinding effect on the audience.
During the 1940’s, Giorgio Morandi studied landscape painting at Grizzana. His attitude towards painting was focused on putting a lot of emphasis on substance in color such as in shades of blue, ochre and green. A fine example of this is his Landscape of 1943. His brushwork was more fluid which affect a disquieting force on the tranquil landscape, as though vibrations of the natural world are coming out from the painting and outward to the audience.
Without doubt, Giorgio Morandi ended up having a successful career despite his deliberate decision of distancing himself from fame and politics. He developed small and large still-life paintings most of which are well-lit and through this light the objects radiate a sense of vibrations. This could be Morandi’s way of portraying his own emotional response to the quite life he’s been having, a deafening silence. His chiaroscuros are enhanced by outlines and helped in characterizing the serious aura of his subjects. Additionally, Morandi’s subject matter may seem repetitive but the way he tried to give new meaning to these objects was always original, especially given the fact that he intended to observe and interpret the very nature of the object.
Needless to say, Giorgio Morandi was a genius artist who had the skills and resources to investigate simple things and give deeper meanings to them. His optimistic personality is seen through the luminosity of his works and the pure form of the objects reflected the good influences his hermit-like lifestyle brought him.
Giorgio Morandi died on June 18, 1964 in via Fondazza, Bologna at the age of 73. Little is known about his romantic relationships with women nor did he commit to marital life. One of the major recognitions he received during his lifetime was the 1948 Venice Biennale first prize for painting and the Sao Paulo’s Biennial grand prize.