Giorgio Morandi

Among the most celebrated and influential Italian artists of the twentieth century, Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) is best known for his paintings, drawings, and etchings depicting still life arrangements of everyday objects.

Although Morandi spent nearly his entire life in his hometown of Bologna and rarely traveled outside of Italy, his work was exhibited internationally and was widely admired by the avant-garde as well as traditional schools both during and after his lifetime. In 1913-1914, he established connections and exhibited with Italian Futurist artists such as Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, and Fortunato Depero, and in 1918-1919, he worked briefly as part of the Scuola Metafisica with Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà. By 1920, Morandi established the small-scale depictions of still lifes and landscapes that he would pursue throughout his oeuvre, and that were associated with no other school or style but his own.

Over the course of his five-decade career, Morandi worked almost exclusively in series. Remaining dedicated to the repertoire of subjects that had occupied him since the early 1910s, including tabletop still life of bottles, boxes, vases, and flowers, as well as occasional landscapes, his variations on a given compositional motif became more persistent, nuanced, and abstract in the latter half of his life. The artist’s favored subjects, including a yellow Persian bottle, a white fluted vase, a water jug, and boxes, appear repeatedly in different compositions, variously arranged in irregular configurations and tightly compacted so as to layer, abut, and obfuscate the shapes of adjacent forms, elaborating Morandi’s credo that “Nothing is more abstract than reality. “Through subtle shifts in color, tone, scale, and mark-making, Morandi was able to convey the ever-changing perceptual understanding and memory of the objects and spaces one encounters.

Between 1907 and 1913, Morandi was enrolled at the Bologna Accademia di Belle Arti, where he later served as the professor of engraving and etching from 1930-1956. Etching held a fundamental place in Morandi’s oeuvre and allowed him to explore compositional permutations in softly rendered monochrome. As Janet Abramowicz notes, “Morandi believed that certain images could be expressed in this medium only…. The essence of Morandi’s modernism is seen in his etchings—his use of serial imagery, his departure from academic realism in his use of light and shadow, and his lack of interest in imitating nature. Morandi’s goal was to liberate the objects he used from their everyday ordinary reality as he ignored conventional perspectival and lighting paradigms.”

The present early print depicts a cluster of numerous and varied vessels including bottles, a water jug, a rectangular canister, and an urn. The work’s emphasis on tonal variation, repeated but differentiated volumes, and spatial ambiguity exemplifies Morandi’s longstanding concern with space, light, and form over subject matter—aspects that had a profound influence on twentieth century and contemporary art. Notably, the placement of the etching plate on the sheet in the present print differs somewhat between editions.