Although Morandi’s still lifes typically depict solid vessels such as bottles and jugs, there are various interesting examples of works throughout his career where he chose to explore the texture of soft cloth, and in doing so following a great tradition in European still-life painting from 17th century masters to pioneers of Modernism such as Paul Cézanne. The cloth first appeared in two paintings of 1919: during this earlier period the cloth was often rendered more as a stiff object than a folded textile, and in the 1920s Morandi repositioned the cloth towards the edge of the table in his increasingly abstract and bold compositions. As a soft object capable of changing its shape and folding onto itself - in contrast to the solidity of bottles and other hard objects - the cloth allowed the artist to introduce a new textural quality and area of study to his painting.
The present work is an exceptional example of Morandi's lifelong exploration of the still-life genre. The artist's dedication to such a limited subject gives his œuvre a sincerity and gravity, which invites comparison with that other modern master, Alberto Giacometti. Though Giacometti's focus was the figure, and Morandi's the object, they are bound by their inexhaustible commitment to their chosen subject matter and their 'search for the absolute'. Morandi's œuvre introduces us to a world where silence reigns and time is suspended. There is an overwhelming universality to his work: these bottles, pitchers and jars are containers that have been used since time began. Marilena Pasquali has argued that 'time in Morandi is a primary, ineluctable dimension: it is duration, first and foremost, and then invention, gamble, daring. In the reality of phenomena, he seeks the lasting, the unchanging, the illusion of an immobile time. Change, continuous and unstoppable, is in him knowingly as he reflects himself in the object in his studio, making them each time different because it is he, instant by instant, who is different and thus sees what is in front of him with new eyes' (M. Pasquali in Giorgio Morandi, Through Light (exhibition catalogue), Imago Art Gallery, London, 2009, p. 22).
Morandi has here - for the most part - employed his typically muted palette of whites and nuanced ochres, allowing him to explore the impact of the brighter yellow on these tonal relationships. The painting retains the artist's characteristically understated quality, but the inclusion of the soft cloth, and the challenges that this brought, make it one of his more ambitious works. The four forms huddle together, each element enjoying its own unique relationship with the others. They seem to protect one another: Morandi has carefully orchestrated a temporary family of form, to be rearranged for countless future compositions, but immortalised in the present work. To dismiss these forms as inanimate would be to disregard Morandi's gift for putting 'the man into things, filling them with a tension and a lifeblood that makes them vibrate to the touch of that cool fire that lights them up from inside. And the studio is transmuted into an experimental laboratory in which highly sensitive seismographs, Morandi's "antennae", register every slightest variation in arrangement and interior atmosphere' (ibid., p. 22).
Much has been made of the meditative character of Morandi's paintings, the antidote to the speed and vertigo-inducing works of his Italian Futurist contemporaries. Indeed, the present work is a masterpiece in stillness, an iconic example of Morandi's extraordinarily nuanced and important artistic project.
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