Giorgio Morandi, Bologna artist

Morandi book “One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.” Giorgio Morandi. [1]

Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964) is one of my favourite artists. I was pleased to read that the artists he listed as his influences are also in my pantheon (Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Chardin, Cezanne and Seurat).[2] Trying to come up with something that encapsulates the work of all these artists, I thought of solidity and stillness (generalisations, of course). When we were in Bologna last September we saw many of Morandi’s works. Since late 2012 the Morandi collection that used to be in a separate museum has been temporarily located at MAMbo (the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna or Modern Art Museum of Bologna).

Before continuing with Morandi, I will add some photos of Bologna.  Bologna is known for its porticos (arcades), which make it a very elegant city, and we very much enjoyed our visit (for some more photos, see my Italy 2017 page).

Possibly in 1910 (sources vary with the date) Morandi, with his mother and sisters, moved to 36 Via Fondazza, Bologna where he lived for the rest of his life (he never married). You can also visit the Casa Morandi – and the apartment we were staying in was around the corner in Santo Stefano, and we were there on the right days. However, I didn’t read the fine print, which says you have to make an appointment. I turned up at the opening hour only to find no one there and the door locked.

At MAMbo I bought a book about Morandi  – although written for children, I liked the images and a Bologna Morandi itinerary.[3] Short of another trip to Bologna, this is my only way of viewing his studio! (I’ve also written about visiting artists studios, but unfortunately his is not among them of course.)

Something that surprised me at MAMbo was the watercolour landscapes Morandi painted – I only knew him for his still lifes. As the subtitle of the book says: “The man who painted bottles”.

These remind me of Cezanne. Another surprise many years ago were the watercolour still lifes that Cezanne painted, such as:

Paul Cezanne, Still life with green melon, 1902-06.

(Image from ‘Interpreting Cezanne’, Paul Smith, Tate Publishing, 1996.)

As Edmund Capon (a former Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales) has written about Morandi: “How is it that an artist who seemingly changed so little and employed such a limited repertoire of images and subjects could so command our respect and attention? The answer lies in the genuine sense of experience embodied in his works. The fact that Morandi lived a secluded life, seldom leaving his home city of Bologna, and remained willingly confined to the family house and his studio, could well be interpreted as a life without much breadth of experience. As he said ‘I have been fortunate enough to live an uneventful life’. Maybe he did not experience the exultation of natural beauty, human passion or sensory delight overtly. But there is nonetheless a beautiful revelation of human sensibility, even dignity, in those familiar dust-gathering bottles and vases that have become his hallmark.”[4] Actually, he did travel, particularly within Italy: “He was much more travelled than some historical accounts make him out to be.”[5]

Morandi Capon

It took him weeks to make up his mind about a composition – and yet he said “often I still go wrong with my spaces. Perhaps I work too fast.”[6]

So, some of the works he is better known for (photographed by me at MAMbo – apologies for not photographing or writing down the titles, but I’m fairly sure they will be some variation on ‘still life’):

Siri Hustvedt has also written an essay about Morandi. “Morandi, it seems to me, actively investigates the drama of perception…He once said, ‘The only interest the visible world awakens in me concerns space, light, color and forms.’ These are what might be called the essentials of vision, but note that he does not mention content.”[7]

In his later paintings the forms did almost dissolve into the background (image from MAMbo children’s book):

Still Life, 1963. Morandi

*

“In our impatient, hyperactive lives, Morandi simply asks that we slow down.”[8]

*

Footnotes:

[1] From the website: The Art Story: Modern Art Insight, Giorgio Morandi: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-morandi-giorgio.htm

[2] Silvia Spadoni, ‘The Forbidden Room’ in Giorgio Morandi: The Man who Painted Bottles (A Children’s Guide to a Great 20th Century Artist), MAMbo, 2012, p.17

[3] Giorgio Morandi: The Man who Painted Bottles (A Children’s Guide to a Great 20th Century Artist), MAMbo, 2012

[4] Edmund Capon, ‘Giorgio Morandi, Master of the Silent Bottle’, in I Blame Duchamp: My Life’s Adventures in Art, Lantern (Penguin), 2009, p. 247

[5] The Art Story website.

[6] Quoted in Edmund Capon, ibid.

[7] Siri Hustvedt, ‘The Drama of Perception: Looking at Morandi’, in Living, Thinking, Looking, Sceptre, 2012, p. 237

[8] Edmund Capon, ibid

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