Giorgio Morandi

Still Life


In Tate Modern
Giorgio Morandi 1890–1964
Original title
Natura morta
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 375 x 457 mm
frame: 533 x 613 x 65 mm
Presented by Studio d'Arte Palma, Rome 1947


Still Life is an oil painting on canvas by the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. It depicts a display of five domestic objects arranged on a flat table surface: a bottle, a jar and three porcelain bowls of various sizes. The objects are arranged in two horizontal rows, with the three smallest objects situated at the front of the composition and the bottle and a taller bowl at the back. In this work, Morandi uses a muted colour palette that ranges from light and medium grey to cream white, beige, pale yellow and mauve. The ball-shaped container in the front row at the lower left corner of the painting has a top section with yellow grooves and a bottom section with white grooves. The cup in the centre of the composition has a red brim and the bowl on the right side has purple grooves. Still Life is inscribed with the artist’s signature at the bottom right of the canvas.

Still Life was made in Bologna in 1946. The canvas was prepared with a white ground layer and an underdrawing made with graphite is visible around the central vase. The oil paint was then applied in thin layers, wet on wet, with lively brushstrokes. The painting has a wooden frame with gilded details. In 1947 a photograph of the painting was sent to Tate that shows an inscription on the reverse of the frame detailing the painting’s title in Italian (‘Natura morta’) and the year it was made (see Alley 1981, p.540).

Morandi kept a supply of vases, bottles and jars in his studio, which he used as models for many of his still life paintings in a variety of arrangements. In a letter dated 7 July 1953 the artist wrote that there were ‘several variants of the present work and the same objects also appear in other pictures’ (quoted in Alley 1981, p.540). The first of the still lifes to feature several of the same objects in a similar arrangement was made in 1936, but the most closely related works date from the period 1945–7, although no two of these are exactly the same (see Alley 1981, p.540).

Morandi was born in Bologna, where he studied between 1907 and 1913. He became familiar with the work of the French impressionist painters Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) and Claude Monet (1840–1926), as well as that of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), through exhibitions in Venice and Rome. His work was also influenced by the Italian Renaissance painters Giotto (c.1266/7–1337), Piero della Francesca (c.1415–1492) and Paulo Uccello (1397–1475).

Further reading
Lamberto Vitali, Giorgio Morandi: Pittore, Milan 1965, reproduced pl.168.
Lamberto Vitali, Morandi: Catalogo Generale 1913–47, Milan 1977, reproduced no.514.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, p.540, reproduced p.540.

Natasha Adamou
May 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

Morandi repeatedly painted the same selection of familiar items, including bottles, bowls, pots and boxes. In his paintings, they lose their domestic purpose, to become sculptural objects that invite meditation and contemplation. Through repeated scrutiny of these simple items, Morandi created a sense of timelessness. However, his fondness for the earthy colours of his native Bologna helps to anchor such works in the artist's own life and surroundings.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Giorgio Morandi 1890-1964

N05782 Still Life 1946

Inscribed 'Morandi' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 14 3/4 x 18 (37.5 x 45.5)
Presented by the Studio d'Arte Palma 1947
Prov: Studio d'Arte Palma, Rome (purchased from the artist 1947)
Exh: Modern Italian Art, Tate Gallery, June-July 1954 (not in catalogue)
Lit: Lamberto Vitali, Morandi: Catalogo Generale 1913-47 (Milan 1977), No.514, n.p. repr. as 'Natura Morta' 1946
Repr: Lamberto Vitali, Giorgio Morandi Pittore (Milan 1965), pl.168; Studio International, CLXXXVIII, 1974, p.171

The title 'Natura Morta' and date 1946 are inscribed on the back of a photograph sent to the Trustees in 1947, when the gift was being considered.

Morandi kept a stock of bottles and jars which he used for his still-life pictures in a variety of combinations and arrangements. He wrote that there were several variants of the present work and the same objects also appear in other pictures. (Letter of 7 July 1953).

The first picture in which several of these objects appear in a similar arrangement was made as early as 1936 (Vitali No.210), but the most closely related still lifes all date from the period 1945-7 (Vitali Nos.489-93 of 1945, 515-23 of 1946 and 575-7 of 1947). All include some or all of the same objects in similar groupings, but no two are exactly the same.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.540, reproduced p.540


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