Giorgio Morandi

Still Life


Not on display

Giorgio Morandi 1890–1964
Original title
Natura morta
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 248 × 280 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2010


Still Life 1960 is an oil painting by the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. The canvas is divided into two horizontal segments; the upper half painted pale olive green, the lower, lavender-grey. Three objects – a white vase, a short round container and a conical-topped bottle – rest on the surface. They are arranged close together, one in front of the other, and appear to merge. A sense of spatial depth is introduced through a shadow of the objects, represented by dense strokes of darker paint, that appears on the right-hand side of the composition.

The characteristics of Morandi’s final style are clearly evident in Still Life 1960. The small canvas is typical of a concentration that allowed him to work rapidly across sequences of numerous compositional variations. In an exhibition at Tate Modern in 2001, this practice was brought out by the pairing of this painting with another of the same time and very similar grouping (see Tate Modern 2001, reproduced pp.69, 68, nos.40, 39 respectively). The form in Still Life 1960 has been softened in conjunction with the fluid handling of paint. The objects, processing away from the viewer, seem to blend together in a deliberate ambiguity that draws attention to the phenomenological experiences of seeing and being in space. The vase stands proud of the circular sienna container, yet their tops elide. Similarly, the vessel with the conical top (familiar from Morandi’s paintings over the preceding thirty years) is formless where the light floods across it and it melds with the background. The casting of the shadows out of the composition introduce a grand scale beyond the confines of the small canvas.

The genre of still life dominated the output of Morandi throughout his career. Many have seen him – as he saw himself – as a modern-day inheritor of the mantle of Chardin and Paul Cézanne. Perhaps more so than these artists, Morandi’s practice excluded the ephemeral and allowed a concentration that was both dogged and revelatory. The same objects recur and, through repetition, their peculiarities are scrutinised and superseded. They take on ideal forms and complex interrelationships which have encouraged commentators to see them as anthropomorphic. Morandi painted these familiar objects in his bedroom studio at Via Fondazza in Bologna through almost the whole of his career, only shifting to a rural house, at Grizzana, in 1960. Many of the still lifes of the last four years of his life were made there, alongside paintings of the landscape, and achieve an ethereal quality in which formal similarities are found across the two genres.

Further reading
Giorgio Morandi, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2001, reproduced p.69.

Matthew Gale
May 2010

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Display caption

A clarinet lies on a mantelpiece at the centre of this playful work. In front of it stands a bottle with the characters RHU, the first three letters of the French word for rum. The word Valse (Waltz) introduces the idea of dancing, reinforcing the theme of music evoked by the clarinet and suggestions of treble and bass clefs. The scrolled form in the lower right-hand corner could stand for either the bracket of the mantelpiece or the head of an instrument.

Gallery label, October 2016

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