Natura morta

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  • Video

    'Natura morta' | Giorgio Morandi

    International Specialist Nathalie Zaquin-Boulakia discusses the poetry of still life in Giorgio Morandi's 'Natura morta'.

  • Provenance

    Curt Valentin Gallery, New York
    Russell Hauser, New York
    Thence by decent
    Christie's, New York, 12 November 1985, lot 68
    Galerie Malingue, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986

  • Literature

    Marilena Pasquali, Morandi. Opere catalogate tra il 1985 e il 2000, Bologna, 2000, no. 1952/4, p. 61 (illustrated)
    Marilena Pasquali, Giorgio Morandi. Catalogo generale. Opere schedate dal 1985, Pontedera, 2016, no. 1952/4, p. 127 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A delectable example of Giorgio Morandi’s still life arrangements, Natura morta, circa 1952, captures the Italian artist’s prodigious ability to galvanise visions of the everyday, transforming bowls, pots and bottles into magnetic protagonists. Deployed over the course of fifty years, Morandi’s thematic practice breathed new life into the microcosmic category of still lifes, dexterously adapting the age-old genre to the artist’s own stylistic inclinations. Touching on vocabularies of figuration and abstraction, the present work exemplifies Morandi’s distinctive colour palette and rigorous sense of construction, whilst simultaneously highlighting his exquisite command of space, light, form, and colour.

    Rarely leaving his native Bologna, Morandi frequently infused his canvases with the stillness of his city’s aura. ‘To see one of [Morandi’s] pictures is to know his character, his family, his home, his street, his town’, remarked his friend Leo Longanesi. ‘His colours veiled in dust [...] His is the delicate, weightless light that filters into his street’ (Leo Longanesi, ‘Giorgio Morandi’, L’Italiano 3, 16-17 December 1928). Closely gathered ‘like trees and bushes, or a group of people posing in front of a photograph’, Natura morta’s unmoving subjects are rendered almost indistinguishable from the medium through which they are portrayed, reflecting not only the luminescence of oil paint but also the earthy hues that defined Morandi’s immediate surroundings (Andrew Forge, Giorgio Morandi, exh. cat., The Arts Council London, 1970, p. 8). Theatrically orchestrated across the width of a tabletop, they paradoxically fade into their muted setting. As humble and charismatic characters, they echo the enchanting tropes of Morandi’s captivating oeuvre.

    Drawing from Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s naturalistic tabletop scenes in early years, Morandi’s work subsequently eschewed realistic likeness in favour of more essential and evocative representations. Buttressed by his religious following of art world developments through the frequent scrutiny of art journals, the artist experienced Impressionist works in the flesh for the first time in 1911, on the occasion of a Roman exhibition showcasing paintings by Claude Monet. This visit had an enduring impact on his practice; from then onward, Morandi imparted his still lifes with hints of imprecision that weaved a union between representation and sensation. The painter’s engagement with the Pittura Metafisica group, heralded by Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Carrà and Filippo de Pisis, equally motivated a stylistic shift. The movement’s rejection of Futurist iconoclasm in favour of a more poetic style, presaging the dream-like aesthetic of Surrealism, pushed Morandi towards a more contemplative approach, and emphasised the gravitas of his painted vessels.

    While Morandi's early paintings made use of an accentuated colour palette and an exact rendering of perspective, works from the late 1940s onward became increasingly geometric and abstract, dispensing with prominent shades to make room for dry angles and essential lines. An increased economy of means is obvious in the present work: its shapes and colours seem to progress from one another organically, punctuated by visible traces of expressive brushwork. A collection of miscelleaneous volumes in space, Natura morta’s objects are as close to artistic abstraction as they are to algorithmic geometry. The repetition of colour deployed amidst the composition’s deftly stacked vessels amplifies this effect, and illustrates Morandi’s belief that, ‘The great book of nature is written in mathematical language. Its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures’ (Giorgio Morandi, radio interview for Voice of America, 25 April 1957, in Vitali, Giorgio Morandi pittore, p. 86).

    Prodigiously balancing contrasting impressions of flatness and depth, Natura morta’s impastoed brushwork highlights the composition’s monochromatic background. Embedding clear figurative expression within a clean, unclotted setting, the painting straddles two- and three-dimensionality, in ways that are reminiscent of Paul Cézanne's organic compositions. As such, the items populating Morandi’s paintings are not merely represented but embodied and vivified; their inherent phenomenological aspects touch on intangible notions of energy and expressive abstraction. As remarked by James Thrall Soby, ‘Morandi was not simply a painter of bottles and occasional landscapes but a man intent on exploring subtle equations of forms, placing and atmospheric effects’ (James Thrall Soby, ‘A visit to Morandi’, Giorgio Morandi, London, 1970, p. 5). These forms and effects, in turn, produce an irrepressible aura that transcends the descriptive qualities of still life painting.

    Though dexterously concentrated in space, Morandi’s evocative embodiment of mundanity goes beyond the confines of the canvas. Reminding the viewer of the life that surrounds the painterly act, the present work summons external associations, conveying the idea of an artist who arranges, rearranges and observes laid-out compositions, in order to breathe in the reality of the scene before him. Coalescing visions of what is there and what is not, Morandi harnesses the powerfully evocative magic of still lifes. His quiet and ethereal painterly universe bred a similarly enduring legacy, rooted in the part-abstract, part-realistic depiction of ordinary objects, as wondrously materialised by Wayne Thiebaud’s shelved cakes and Philip Guston’s enigmatic items placed in rows.

22

Property from the Collection of the Kasama Nichido Museum of Art

Natura morta

signed 'Morandi' lower edge
oil on canvas
30.2 x 40.4 cm (11 7/8 x 15 7/8 in.)
Painted circa 1952.

Estimate
£600,000 - 800,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £975,000

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060 rwiden@phillips.com

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019