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 the middle.


Verinha Ottoni.


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