Morandi’s Still-Life (1926)

Still-life really means dead-life as in the French term nature morte. Giorgio Morandi (1890 - 1964) painted them obsessively for most of his life. But are his depictions of objects lined up on shelf or table in an atmospheric haze of ochre, charcoal and white really still-lifes? He was and is highly regarded by eminent artists who possibly know what I am about to show but still keep quiet about it. Artists have done likewise for centuries. Other viewers looking at the same bottles, vases, bowls and flowers enthuse about Morandi's "great sensitivity to tone, color, and compositional balance" which are talents found in abundance in art schools everywhere.1 So what does Morandi do in a still-life that no-one but artists seems to know about? Like all other great masters he paints himself.

Morandi painted so many images like this one, constructed in a similar way, that I have chosen it quite at random. Once I show you how it works, though, you should be able to identify others on your own.

The composition seems simple but to be art, according to my theory, it must convey more than external nature.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Morandi, Still-life (1926) Oil on canvas.

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Morandi had a prominent lower lip (center). That lip is then recognizable in the folded cloth in the lower right corner. What seems an indecipherable shape above suggests his nose and nostril with the corner of an eye in the handle of a basket. (See diagram.) Eye in handle, of course, conveys the unity of his eye and hand.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Morandi's Still-life (1926)
C: Photographic detail of Morandi's face
R: Diagram of the detail at far left

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The eyes are not "properly" placed but at an angle in the basket and the end of its handle (click to enlarge). The "nose" is breast-shaped too with, in repro, a darker circle for a nipple on the left and a shadowed silhouette on the right. The vase's neck, like a chimney or nerve, conveys the fertility of his imaginary breasts up towards the eyes and his androgynous mind. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail and diagram of Morandi's Still-life (1926)

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In an etching of flowers three years later Morandi's features are visible again though less obviously. Take a moment to see if you can find them. You should know, as I have explained elsewhere, that this must be a mental image and in mental images, whether in art or our actual minds, the features of an object are seen from varying viewpoints. They are not "natural". That is why the eyes were in the "wrong" position in the painting. Indeed it is only because features are jumbled in our minds that we can recognize an object from any angle, the theory behind my explanation of Cubism.2

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Captions for image(s) above:

Morandi, Flowers in a cone-shape on an oval background (1929) Etching.

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Enlarge the images to compare. His lower lip is the lip of a petal, not surprisingly.3 The other, uneven, is in the lip above. His nose's contour is a linear gap while one eye is dark on a dark ground, the other light on light. As elsewhere, one eye observes external nature, the other is for insight. Thus his face and eyes bloom from flowers in this still-life as fertile symbols of his creative process, an image in his mind.

To my own mind, however, his still-lifes are no longer still.

P.S. I should note that I have already demonstrated the identical technique in the work of Balthus, Francis Bacon, Giovanni Bellini, Bonnard, Leonora Carrington, C├ęzanne, Cranach the Elder, Corot and Morandi's Italian contemporary De Chirico and that's just the list between A and C. For those and 32 more artists, see Veiled Faces.


 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Detail of Morandi's Flowers.... (1929)
Top R: Photographic detail of Morandi's face
Bottom: Diagram of the detail above

Click image to enlarge.

More Works by Morandi

Notes:

1. "Giorgio Morandi", Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Morandi) retrieved on Sept. 8th 2013

2. Abrahams, "Cubism Explained" published online at EPPH, 30th Oct. 2011

3. The outer part of a petal that curves downwards really is known as a labellum or lip. The former is Latin for lip.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 08 Sep 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.