Giorgio Morandi

Still Life, 1962
Oil on Canvas, 30.5 x 30.6 cm
Tate Modern, London 2001

This was the first time I had seen his work and in all honesty I couldn’t remember any specific painting from the show, only the overall impression the body of work made. Consequently I have chosen a painting that was in the show, but that I have had chance to see at the National Gallery in Scotland subsequently.

The impression the Tate Exhibition left with me was one of incredible uniformity, each painting was a small still life and in one room the same objects in the paintings were repeated over and over. The palette throughout was predominantly muted colours and I have since learned deliberately referenced the colours of his home town, Bologna. Because he painted his bottles and boxes without any labels the arrangements were more about form than representation.

Still Life 1962.jpg

Although I went through the exhibition quite quickly and missed the immense complexity within the subtle variations of composition, I did spend enough time with a couple of paintings in the exhibition to appreciate their qualities of quietness and spatial harmony. I also remember preferring the later more abstract style of painting where the still life objects were arranged in a non-conventional way. So I was pleased to revisit this example of his later style in 2005, when I was more attuned to the quality of the nervous scumbled brushwork and the light that emanated from the surface. I was also aware of the significance of the tightly grouped objects that suggest to some the skyline of Bologna and to others family portraits.[1]

Looking at the work later I was also able to appreciate, in retrospect, that the painting was more about the idea than the things he saw, and that they were devoid of narrative. Yet he did paint from actual objects rather than from his imagination. The photograph of his studio shows a reconstruction of a typical set up for one of his paintings. Morandi once commented that 'For me nothing is abstract. In fact, I believe nothing more abstract, more surreal, than reality'.[2]

Casa Morandi.jpg

In this canvas I certainly felt there was more to it than the physical surface of the image, an aura which maybe because of my own circumstances at the time, I sensed as melancholic. It is something to do with the two black bottles cowering in front of the white vases, something edgy and uncertain. From a distance I find it hard to say whether I was feeling the artist’s intentions or if I was projecting my own sense of loss, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. I certainly didn’t see a skyline, but I did sense a family portrait where some of the members were lost.

[1] In fact I have since read that Darian Leader postulates in his book “The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression” that Morandi’s repetition and rearrangement of motifs might not just resemble family portraits, but also may indicate an arrested or stagnation of the mourning process

Leader, Darian The New Black 2008 Hamish Hamilton 30

[2] Quoted on Tate Modern webpage

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