Giorgio Morandi
Biography of Italian Still Life Painter & Etcher.
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Still Life (1960) Private Collection.
For other contemporary still lifes like
those produced by Giorgio Morandi,
see: Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)

Contents

Biography
Early Life and Training
Metaphysical Art Movement
Still Life Painting
Professor of Printmaking
Fame
Legacy


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Paintings by Giorgio Morandi
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Biography

One of Italy's leading modern artists, the painter and etcher Giorgio Morandi was born in Bologna, Italy, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. After experimenting with fashionable modern art movements like Cubism and Futurism during his early-20s, Morandi became involved with Metaphysical Painting through Carlo Carra and Giorgio de Chirico, with whom he exhibited in Berlin and Florence (1921-22). Initially he painted landscapes, but soon focused all his attention on still life painting, the genre he is principally remembered for - notably, clusters of jugs, bottles, vases, bowls and other ordinary containers, painted (or etched) in a variety of groupings, light and colours. Known first for his etching, he won a painting prize at the 1948 Venice Biennale, after which he achieved widespread fame in Europe and America. An important influence on contemporary minimalism, Morandi is considered to be one of the most famous painters of modern Italy and one of the best still life painters of the 20th century. There is a museum of his work, and a reconstruction of his studio, in his native city of Bologna.

 

 

Early Life and Training

Morandi was born and spent all his life in Bologna. At 17 he enrolled at the city's Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) where he taught himself the art of etching by studying reference books on Rembrandt. To begin with he absorbed the style and aesthetics of Cubism and then Italian Futurism. He also developed a very high regard for the work of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), as well as that of the primitive artist Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). In 1914, he took up the post of drawing instructor for primary schools in Bologna - a position he occupied until 1929.

Metaphysical Art Movement

In 1919, he met Carlo Carra (1881-1966) and Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) who introduced him to Metaphysical Painting (Pittura Metafisica) - a school which explored the imagined inner life of familiar objects. During this metaphysical phase (c.1919-22) his still lifes, while sharply defined, did not behave according to normal expectations: they cast irrational shadows, or presented an illogical structure. They were painted in the same basic grey-green and ochre colour palette as Chirico's, with each object isolated within its own stillness and space. Although he moved away from the Metaphysical Painting movement and the similar Purism, Morandi's lifelong involvement in still life can be understood as a continuous attempt to explore the metaphysics (the otherness) of the common object.

 

Still Life Painting

From roughly 1922 onwards, as his reputation slowly grew, Morandi settled on three subjects that would dominate his oil painting until he died: still lifes of common utensils (jugs, bottles); vases of flowers; and, to a lesser extent, purposely banal landscapes (eg. Landscape with the River Savena, 1929, etching, Arts Council of Great Britain). In his still life canvases he concentrated more and more on subtle gradations of hue, tone, and compositional balance. One of the influences on his work was the Renaissance-inspired painting of Carlo Carra - see, for example, his still life The Drunken Gentleman (1916).

Professor of Printmaking

He exhibited at the Novecento Italiano art shows of 1926 and 1929, the 1928 Venice Biennale, and the Rome Quadriennali of 1931 and 1935. He was to some extent sympathetic to the Fascist party of the 1920s, without being supportive. In 1930, he was appointed Professor of Printmaking at Bologna's Academy of Fine Arts, a post he held for the next 26 years. Henceforth, except for one overseas visit to Paris in 1956, he remained quietly in Bologna looked after by his sisters, teaching and painting. His studio occupied one room in a modest apartment in which his sisters kept house for him.

Fame

In 1948, he held his first one-man exhibition at the Fiore Gallery, Florence, and in the same year he was awarded first prize for an Italian artist at the Venice Biennale, and elected a member of the Academy of Art, Rome. During the 1950s his fame spread abroad. He won the Grand Prix for printmaking at the Sao Paulo Biennale of 1953 and the Grand Prize for fine art painting at the Sao Paulo Biennale of 1957. These awards made him famous, and his unique work gained him enormous respect among younger Italian artists, not least because of its rigorous aesthetic. He died in Bologna in 1964.

Legacy

Morandi was one of the great exponents of modern art. A master etcher, draughtsman, watercolourist, and oil painter, he executed numerous landscapes and self-portraits, but his greatest contribution was his signature still lifes. Based around the structural qualities of Cezanne, these paintings display an economy of form, line, tone and colour which was Morandi's method of stripping away the inessential so as to reveal some deeper aspect of the everyday. In this sense he was an important forerunner of Minimalism.

Now regarded as one of the great 20th century painters, Giorgio Morandi is represented in many of the best art museums in Europe.

• For biographies of other still life artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more information about 20th century Italian painting, see: Homepage.


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