Giorgio Morandi - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips
  • Video

    Giorgio Morandi, 'Natura morta', Lot 15

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2019

  • Provenance

    Galleria del Milione, Milan
    Paolo and Florence Marzotto Collection, Valdagno
    Acquired from the above the present owner

  • Literature

    Lamberto Vitali, Morandi Catalogo generale 1948/1964, vol. II, Milan, 1977, no. 912, n.p. (illustrated, dated 1954, incorrect dimensions listed)
    Marilena Pasquali, Giorgio Morandi. Catalogo generale. Opere catalogate tra il 1985 e il 2016, Pontedera, 2016, n. 912, p. 304

  • Catalogue Essay

    Shedding a focused and scholastic light on long-necked bottles, majestic bowls, and various other vessels found in Bologna’s local flea-markets, Giorgio Morandi’s opus presents an enchanting and intimate view of the artist's conjunct working and living environment. Despite the recurring protagonism of containers sourced from his immediate settings, Morandi's intimate compositions are continuously able to spark astonishment through the creation of distinctive atmospheres, regenerated and particularised with each new canvas. Natura morta, 1960, is no exception to this rule. Whimsically orchestrating four variably sized vessels in front or next to one another, the painting presents the artist's ability to transfer real spatial configurations on canvas, through an exquisite command of light, form, and colour. Resisting strict mimesis and instead appealing to sensation, Morandi maintains expressive brushwork throughout the surface of the present work, conveying a result that is at once figuratively referential and allusively gestural. A muted yet incandescent image, Natura morta conveys the silent, vacant spaces that punctuate the everyday, paring down Morandi’s studio environment to its absolute essentials so as to create a poetic symphony of forms and hues.

    Eluding the radical stylistic novelties that pervaded the Italian art scene following the war, led by the likes of Alberto Burri, Salvatore Scarpitta, and a number of Arte Povera proponents, Morandi followed his own artistic inclinations, developed from an early age through his engagement with Impressionist reproductions and the aesthetics of Chardin. From his early forays at the Academia di Belle Arti di Bologna to his ensuing experimentation with Pittura Metafisica, Morandi subsequently kept close affiliations to the still-life despite the genre's waning popularity in the midst of the burgeoning modern movement. Lonesome and meditative by character, Morandi infused his paintings with the peacefulness of his tranquil life in Bologna. Building an opus that resonated with the environmental silence he engulfed himself in, Morandi consistently celebrated and materialised the evocative power of the still life, through the rendition of a single scene deployed in different guises and arrangements. Through this sustained thematic practice, the artist single-handedly proved the lasting and perennial impact of his preferred genre.

    Formerly in the collection of Paolo and Florence Marzotto, Natura morta is a prime example of Morandi’s career-long cycle of luminous still life compositions. With its soft, blue and green-toned palette as well its rare compositional verticality, the canvas displays a unique pairing of spatial control and colour coordination, that in turn conjures an overarching atmosphere of meditative contemplation and serenity. Through painterly balance, restraint and harmony, Morandi is able to harness an aesthetic of grandeur and gravity that breathes seamless, organic emotion into the overall composition. Fellow artist and friend Giorgio de Chirico expressed the artist's unique ability to envelop mundane items in a cloth of familiarity and warmth as a kind of phenomenological empathy. He wrote, ‘These objects are dead for us because they are immobile. But [Morandi] looks at them with belief. He finds comfort in their inner structure – their eternal aspect. In this way he has contributed to the lyricism of the last important movement in European art: the metaphysics of the common object’ (Giorgio de Chirico, exh. cat., Giorgio Morandi, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1960, p. 6). Imparting mere physical vessels with metaphysical properties, and thus allowing inanimate entities to become touching and moving to the viewer, Morandi painted a world that eschewed formulaic precision and rose to the realm of poetry.

    The use of light and dark greys, pale, muted blues, and a grizzled green backdrop in Natura morta makes Morandi’s subtle and poetic invocation of his real surroundings particularly potent, as it produces a sense of depth that dismantles traditional codes of verisimilitude. Boasting a clear contouring and delineation of the central containers, the painting is conversely swallowed into an unknowable vortex of abstraction in the background. This dual approach is characteristic of Morandi’s vernacular: the artist draws from a close observation of reality, yet tinges the world around him with nebulous hints of warmth, intimacy and delicacy. As a result, his compositions convey a beguiling ambiance that is at once ‘focused and exhilaratingly open’ (Roberta Smith, ‘Giorgio Morandi Creates a Universe on a Tabletop’, The New York Times, 19 November 2015, online). An exceptional variation on the artist’s preferred theme, the present canvas displays the brilliance and economy that characterises his best work. Straddling figuration and abstraction, Natura morta demonstrates the artist's unparalleled command of his craft, which not only vivified the genre of still life within painterly tradition, but continues to inform the practice of eminent contemporary painters in the present day.

    Immediately celebrated by audiences in Bologna and wider Italy, Morandi’s oeuvre subsequently reached the ears and eyes of institutional authorities such as Alfred Barr and James Thrall Soby, who, upon visiting his studio on behalf of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1948, became enthralled by the artist’s work. ‘We began to realise that Morandi was not simply a painter of bottles and occasional landscapes but a man intent on exploring subtle equations of forms’ remarked Soby. ‘It was as though he, like Chardin, had found the external world helplessly convoluted and had preferred to stare endlessly at simple objects on a studio table, separating their volumes and colour and then interlocking them again through an alchemy he alone understood’ (James Thrall Soby, ‘A visit to Morandi’, Giorgio Morandi, exh. cat., The Arts Council London, London, 1970, p. 5).

    Profoundly admiring of the artist’s singular mind and inimitable craft, Soby expressed what soon thereafter became a widely accepted truth in the art historical canon: Morandi’s hand was unmatched in the creation of still lifes, merging light, form, and colour with an Impressionistic vein that nonetheless remained infused with his own particular tone, personal visions and fluxes of emotion. So sincere and raw was his gesture that his painting transcended the purely descriptive qualities of the still life genre. Over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, a myriad of the artist’s contemporaries such as Vija Celmins, Sean Scully and Wayne Thiebaud, avidly championed the quiet stillness of Morandi’s canvases, which they rendered homage to in their own painterly creations. As he consistently celebrated and materialised the evocative power of still lifes, Morandi invoked a form of poetry, which, in works like Natura morta, continues to prompt marvel today.

Property from a Private Collection, Rome


Natura morta

signed 'Morandi' lower left
oil on canvas
30.5 x 40.5 cm (12 x 15 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1960.

£800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for £975,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019