Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi was an Italian painter and printmaker who specialized in still life. His paintings are noted for their tonal subtlety in depicting apparently simple subjects, which were limited mainly to vases, bottles, bowls, flowers and landscapes. Born:July 20, 1890, Bologna, Italy Died:June 18, 1964, Bologna, Italy (Source: Wikipedia)

My tutor asked me to look in more detail at the work of Giorgio Morandi, who we all seem to study at one point or another during these courses.   I think the aim of my tutor was to show me how an artist like Morandi used minimal colour but maximum tone in his work to greatest effect.    Apparently, he was influenced by Cézanne.  I was surprised to learn this, considering Morandi’s especially muted colour palette.  However, I think it is the way Cézanne worked around objects in a still life that could have fascinated Morandi – multiple perspectives on arrangements of peaches, for example.   Morandi’s palette is deceptively narrow – he seemed to use only earth tones – ochre, white, beige, muted pastel shades and blue-greys. I decided to concentrate on just one of his paintings to try and get to know him a bit better.   

Still Life 1946 Giorgio Morandi 1890-1964 Presented by Studio d’Arte Palma, Rome 1947

Still Life was made in Bologna in 1946. The canvas was prepared with a white ground layer and an underdrawing made with graphite is visible around the central vase. The oil paint was then applied in thin layers, wet on wet, with lively brushstrokes. The painting has a wooden frame with gilded details. In 1947 a photograph of the painting was sent to Tate that shows an inscription on the reverse of the frame detailing the painting’s title in Italian (‘Natura morta’) and the year it was made (see Alley 1981, p.540).    From

Palette:  Ochre, slate-grey, lemon yellow, pale blue, orange-red/burnt sienna, pink-lilac and darker purple-lilac, white

The background is almost unimportant, it seems as if it was put there just to provide a backdrop for the objects, a kind of necessary evil.   It’s as if Morandi just wanted to get on with it and paint the objects but he had to put them in a setting somewhere on the canvas.   However, looking carefully at the painting (or a digital representation of it), the tone of the background is exquisite, powerful horizontal wide brushstrokes denote the texture of the wall behind the objects, yet the table they are set upon is almost devoid of texture.   The artist has concentrated on the shadows and tones of objects.  In the triangle formed between the two cups and white vase on the right of the composition,  a bright line of sunlight peeps through.   The light on the table is muted but it is still golden and obviously sunlit, I don’t think it’s come from an electric lamp or other artificial source of light.    There is a lot of white in this painting but it is not flat, it dances with interior light.   I wish I could see this painting up front in real life!

I had a rush of blood to the head and decided it might be cool to try and recreate this painting, to see how he got the tone and to figure out exactly how much white he used.  

As I am fast running out of white in both oil and acrylic paint, I chose to use the water-soluble oil pastels, as they provide the largest range of greys and yellows. they are ot the best though insofar as mixing in white onto paper to get the required tone.

Yes, i know I haven’t got the shapes exactly as he has them but I was going for an attempt to see how he treated white and tone. My cellphone camera has also altered the chromatic range of the sketch, it is far closer to the reproduced photo of Morandi’s source work than can be seen above.

In order for me to get that very soft gold tint on the table and behind the items on the right hand side of the wall, I had to lay down a yellow/gold layer first and then put progressive layers of white on top. The large jug has just the faintests hint of grey to suggest volume, as does the small pot in the middle with the red border trim. I found it really interesting trying to get the forms of the items with such a narrow range of tone, as well as keeping the palette as neutral as possible. I think this would have worked a lot better if I’d used acrylics or oils on proper canvas – maybe I’ll have another go at some point. It is great fun making a painting with such a low saturation of colour.


Wikipedia and

YouTube  (the silent perfection of artist Giorgio Morandi – Christies)  (Phillips collection)

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