Giorgio Morandi

February 2013

Sometime about thirty-five years ago a friend gave us a poster of an exhibition in Bologna devoted to the etchings — Le Acqueforti — of Giorgio Morandi. It depicts a disparate group of bottles, vases and jugs lined up on a table. They look at the same time solid and fragile, distinct and clear of outline but perhaps also a bit wonky. The objects are picked out with diagonal lines and cross-hatching against a background that is also entirely grey with hatchings at a different slant. The light which illuminates these objects seems also to come from within them, rendering them magical and mysterious. Overall the picture somehow manages to be both serene and a little nervous, and latent with meaning, though what the meaning of such banal bric-a-brac might be is elusive. Perhaps, as with other still-lives, it lies in the concentration with which the artist has observed his restricted world of things, and which we then apply to his artifice.

For decades this framed poster has moved around various houses, but always been in the background of our lives. The friend, whose gift it was, recently lamented that he had never got round to framing his copy, now in tatters.

The greater part of Morandi’s artistic career (he died in 1964) was spent in a shuttered apartment in Bologna, contemplating his collection of bottles and bowls. He would spend weeks re-arranging them before reproducing a group of them in paint or etching. He did paint other subjects, especially early in his career. But it is his still-lives that are instantly recognisable, and are now sought by galleries all over the world. Obama has recently bought two oil still-lives for the White House.

At the Estorick Collection in London has a small permanent collection of Morandi drawings, paintings and etchings, on its top floor. The Estorick is a few minutes walk from Highbury and Islington underground station. It has a lively and interesting display of Italian twentieth-century art, as well as the Morandi room, a café, a shop, and a small garden.