Giorgio Morandi - Tate Modern
In May 2001, I went to see
the exhibition Giorgio Morandi at
Tate Modern. The artist, known as
"Petit maitre" (little master)
loved still life and his paintings
gave personality to household items.
He was born in Bologna in 1890 (which
he seldom left except for holidays
in the country) and where he died
in 1964. However, he was said to have
gone abroad twice in his life to Switzerland,
which is hardly any distance!! He
spent his life teaching at the local
Academy of Fine Arts where he himself
had been a student and where he ultimately
became Professor of Etching in 1930.
He was a man of set habits and private
nature and he lived with his sisters
in the family home which was his studio.
He never married.
What an array of paintings he made
from those workaday bottles, jugs
and jars from the shelves of his studio
which he took down and arranged in
different formations on an table:
in musical terms they would be known
as "variations on a theme".
Within these narrow confines he was
able to achieve image after image.
"It takes me weeks to make up
my mind which group of bottles will
go well with a particular table. Then
it takes some weeks of thinking about
the bottles themselves and yet often
I still go wrong with the spaces.
Perhaps I work too fast?" Morandi
asked of a friend. He used the same
bottles etc. again and again.
Morandi's paintings were used in the
background of Fellini's film La Dolce
Vita where they kept popping up in
60s fashionable apartments, their
simplicity in stark contrast to the
decadent Italian lifestyle depicted
in the film. All the wonderful variations
in lighting, from dawn to dusk, could
be seen in his paintings.
In the 1950s his work became lighter
- perhaps someone had opened the window
in his workspace and let in some air
and light. Perhaps the predictability
and solitude of his life was the result
of his suffering caused by the First
World War. Soon after he was called
up for military service the 25-year-old
artist suffered a breakdown from which
he took a long time to recover. He
probably felt more at ease with the
bottles than he did with people: hence
he never painted people (although
he did paint some landscapes). These
props gave him the courage to convey
his deep awareness of his instability.
In one 1954 still life a fluted carafe
seems to collapse against three forms
all boxed together as if to support
their wavering neighbour. Then, in
another image painted three years
later, four bottles huddle together
almost supporting a jug and pot in