Lot 29
  • 29

Giorgio Morandi

650,000 - 850,000 GBP
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  • Natura Morta
  • signed indistinctly Morandi (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 40 by 55.2cm.; 15 3/4 by 21 3/4 in.
  • Executed in 1938 circa


Private Collection, Rome

P. Feroldi, Brescia

Galleria del Milione, Milan

Zaffagni, Milan

Galleria del Milione, Milan

Dell'Acqua, Milan

Galleria Tega, Milan

Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1992-1993


Lamberto Vitali, Morandi. Dipinti, Catalogo generale, Milan, 1977, vol. I, no. 228, illustrated n.p.


The canvas is not lined and there is some lovely impasto in places. UV examination reveals a few tiny spots of retouching to the upper left part of the lower right quadrant, to the dark brown area just to the right of the yellow vessel. Otherwise, this work is in overall very good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted circa 1938, the present work is an exceptional example of Morandi's lifelong exploration of the still-life genre. It is one of very few paintings from this important transitional period in the late 1930s - when he was experimenting with incorporating accents of bright colour into his muted compositions - to remain in private hands. It is remarkably similar in feel to the major 1938 Natura Mortapainting in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (fig. 1).

The composition, with the objects pushed right up against the picture plane with barely any surrounding background, lends these ‘protagonists’ a monumentality and an almost architectural grandeur. The painting, with its sumptuous palette of pinks and blues as well as its understated grandeur and focus on compositional devices, recalls the works of the early Italian Renaissance painters that Morandi so admired. In spite of his introspective character and very sheltered, almost reclusive, lifestyle – Morandi spent his whole life in Bologna, only crossing the Italian border twice, even then only a few miles into Switzerland - his artistic legacy has been extraordinarily wide-reaching, with many important contemporary artists citing his nuanced, timeless paintings as an influence. To regard Morandi as merely a painter of still life is to overlook the extraordinary spiritual and meditative qualities that he was able to evoke through this genre, and which has often led his work to be interpreted within the context of the great abstract artists of the twentieth century, including Mark Rothko, Ben Nicholson, and Piet Mondrian. All four of these artists shared a remarkable artistic rigour, recognising the importance of a profound exploration of colour and form in order to draw out essential truths about the world around us and the way we interact with it. Justifying his decision to remain loyal to representational depiction, Morandi explained that ‘I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see’(quoted in, Paul Overy, ‘Morandi’, in The Financial Times, 9th December 1970). The spiritual, almost philosophical aspect of Morandi’s work, is in part due to the way in which he disrupts our usual sense of time, as Marilena Pasquali writes: '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’s dedication and commitment to such a limited subject matter gives his œuvre a sincerity and gravity, introducing us to a mesmerising 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. Morandi did not need to go far to find artistic inspiration, finding as he did a lifetime of inspiration in these modest vessels that surrounded him in his unassuming Bologna studio-cum-living quarters. Even though Morandi never used found-materials in his work (instead exploring the nuanced possibilities afforded by oil paint, etching and drawing), there is something in his earthy palette, repetitive serialised working method, and his recognition of the beauty in humble, everyday objects that invites comparison with the work of fellow-Italian Alberto Burri, whose famous Sacchi painting series (fig. 4) displayed a similarly obsessive fascination with the continuous rearranging of colour and form.

The particular configuration of vessels and pots in the present work huddles tightly together, each object 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 and the present work perfectly exemplifies this. It is a masterpiece not just in terms of form and colour, but also in spiritual terms, as a monument of stillness and of nuance.