20 July 2017

Giorgio Morandi – painter

The greatest master of still life in the 20th century

Giorgio Morandi pictured in his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi pictured in
his studio in Bologna in 1953
The artist Giorgio Morandi, who became famous for his atmospheric representations of still life, was born on the day in 1890 in Bologna.

Morandi’s paintings were appreciated for their tonal subtlety in depicting simple subjects, such as vases, bottles, bowls and flowers.

He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna and taught himself to etch by studying books on Rembrandt. Even though he lived his whole life in Bologna, he was deeply influenced by the work of Cézanne, Derain and Picasso.

In 1910 Morandi visited Florence, where the work of Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello also impressed him.

Morandi was appointed as instructor of drawing for elementary schools in Bologna, a position he held from 1914 until 1929. He joined the army in 1915 but suffered a breakdown and had to be discharged.

During the war his paintings of still life became purer in form, in the manner of Cezanne. After a phase of experimenting with the metaphysical style of painting he began to focus on subtle gradations of hue and tone.

Morandi's 1956 painting Natura morta
Morandi became associated with a Fascist-influenced Futurist group in Bologna and was sympathetic to the Fascist Party in the 1920s, although he also had friendships with anti-Fascist figures, which led to him being arrested briefly.

He took part in the Venice Biennale exhibitions, in the Quadriennale in Rome and also exhibited his work in different cities.

He was professor of etching at Accademia di Belle Arti from 1930 until 1956 and was awarded first prize for painting by the 1948 Venice Biennale.

Morandi lived for most of his adult life in Via Fondazza in Bologna with his three sisters until his death from lung cancer in 1964.

He was buried at the Certosa cemetery in Bologna in the family tomb, which bears a portrait of him executed by his friend, the sculptor Giacomo Manzù.

During his life Morandi completed 1350 oil paintings and 133 etchings. He once explained: ’What interests me most is expressing what’s in nature, in the visible world, that is.’

A 1952 still life from Morandi
A 1952 still life from Morandi
Morandi is perceived as being one of the few Italian artists of his generation to remain detached from contemporary culture and politics and he is now regarded as one of the best modern Italian painters and the greatest master of still life in the 20th century.

His work has been discussed and written about by many art critics. Director Federico Fellini paid tribute to him in La Dolce Vita, which features his paintings, as does Michangelo Antonioni in La Notte.

The novelists Sarah Hall and Don DeLillo and the poet Ivor Cutler have all written about him. Barack Obama chose two oil paintings by Morandi, which are now part of the White House collection.

A Giorgio Morandi museum - the Museo Morandi - which includes a reconstruction of his studio, was opened in 1993 in Bologna.

Many famous photographers took images of him at his house or in his studio and the interior of his house has been filmed. In 2016 the American photographer Joel Meyerowitz published Morandi’s Object, a book containing his photographs of more than 260 objects that the painter had collected during his life.

Morandi's tomb at the Certosa di Bologna
Morandi's tomb at the Certosa di Bologna
Travel tip:

The Certosa di Bologna, where Morandi, is buried is a former Carthusian monastery founded in 1334 and suppressed in 1797, located just outside the walls of the city. In 1801 it became the city’s monumental cemetery and would later be praised by Byron in his writings. In 1869 an Etruscan necropolis was discovered there.

Travel tip:

The Museo Morandi, which displays a large collection of works by the painter, is being temporarily housed in the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, which is in Via Don Giovanni Minzoni in Bologna.

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