Creation from Destruction : Frieze Masters 2020London
Still Life, 1943
Lamberto Vitali collection, Milan
Galleria Gian Ferrari, Milan
Private collection, Milan
Lamberto Vitali, Morandi. Catalogo generale, Milan, 1977, vol. 1, no. 433, illustrated.
Wintherthur, Kunsthalle, Morandi, 1956.
São Paulo, Brazil, Museum of Modern Art, Morandi, 1957, no. 12.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Morandi e Milano, 1990–91.
Brussels, Le Botanique, Morandi, 1992.
Modena, Galleria Civica, Le Metamorfosi del corpo, 1996.
Bologna, MAMbo–Museum of Modern Art Bologna, Morandi, 2009.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Morandi, 2009.
In the 1940s, as war raged across Europe, Morandi added seashells to his repertoire of bottles, bowls, vases, and jars. The artist had first used shells in some drawings and etchings in the 1920s, when he became enamored of Rembrandt’s masterful handling of dark inks on a copper etching plate as a contradictory means to convey the power of light in his Conus Marmoreus (1650).
But it was during the dramatic years of the Second World War that he began to represent these totems of a fossilized world in earnest, exploring their swirls, their irregular profiles, their contorted or spiraling shapes, the alternation of concave and convex elements, the contrast between the irregular textures of a speckled outer shell and the smoothness within, and the light enigmatically grazing and glancing off of these surfaces and curves. Each work is a study in the contrasts, between the small, contained format of the canvases with their austere, virtually monochromatic palette of pinks, grays, browns, and whites, and the barely controlled energy of whorls and violent speckling marking the surfaces of the shells.
The chaotic dynamism of these specimens of naturalia, together with the decidedly dark tones in which they are rendered, both unartistic of Morandi’s oeuvre, might allude to the psychological impact of the war upon the artist, who perhaps in these paintings gave the most subtly allusive of forms to the anguish of the world around him. At the same time, the choice of shells as a subject was a practical one. In 1943, Morandi and his sisters left their flat in via Fondazza in Bologna and moved to their house in the countryside in Grizzana to escape the bombardment of the city. Morandi left many of his most recognizable objects in his studio, and thus turned during this period to the production of landscapes, flower paintings, and, in the case of the shells, still lifes which included objects beyond his usual selection. The present painting is the first in a series of four depicting the same two shells in similar positions, and the first of fifteen shell paintings produced by the artist in the year 1943. The shells likely came from the North African coast, where one of Morandi’s sisters had worked as a teacher, and before serving as impromptu studio props for the artist, had probably been exotic decorative touches in amidst the otherwise stolidly middle-class furnishings of the siblings’ modest home.
Giorgio Bassani, author of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962), praised the peace and composure to which Morandi, and his art, held fast throughout this era of tumult and tragedy: “Morandi’s still lifes held a moral lesson for some young people of my generation…For in a period of lies and rhetoric, he was the least rhetorical of anyone; his work was a lesson for us in artistic integrity.”1
1. Janet Abramowicz, Giorgio Morandi: The Art of Silence, New Haven, 2004, p. xiv.
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