At Large  April 17, 2023  Dian Parker

Giorgio Morandi: Art for Art’s Sake

Fondazione Magnani-Rocca ©DACS 2022

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1942


“Nothing is more abstract than reality.” – Giorgio Morandi

Attention to detail, subtle shifts of perspective, angles of surface, and objects overlapping or jutted up against one another; Giorgio Morandi’s sheer inventiveness with ordinary objects is distinctive. Each painting is unique even though he repeatedly used the same dented tin cans, deep bowls, old pitchers, clear bottles filled with pigment, and quaint vases as subjects. By arranging these objects differently each time, no two paintings look the same. His colors are often grey, subtle, and muted, with touches of rose, and soft blues, greens, and yellows, giving the works a pearled quality. He might add a bit of shadow. Surfaces are often porous and textures vary. The detail is thrilling yet hushed. These are quiet paintings, unpretentious. So like the artist himself.

Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of Morandi

Giorgio Morandi was born in Bologna, Italy in 1890. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna. During his years as a student, he traveled to the VIII Venice Biennale where he studied and revered Cezanne’s paintings. He again visited Venice at the IX Biennale, admiring many Renoirs. That same year, in 1910, he traveled to Florence. At the Uffizi he was deeply impressed by Masaccio, Giotto, and Paolo Uccello. He painted his first landscape a year later, which was described by a young critic, Cesare Brandi, as “a vast sky of solitude without refuge.” Brandi considered Morandi to be the most important painter of the twentieth century. During this period, Morandi also began making etchings.

Following the death of his father in 1910, Giorgio and his family moved to a house on via Fondazza in Bologna. With his mother and three unmarried sisters in tow, they moved to an apartment nearby, and Morandi used the via Fondazza house as his studio. In 1930, he was appointed Professor of Etching at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts where he went to school. He later became the Chair of Printmaking, a position he held until 1956. In 1962, Morandi died at his home in Bologna where he had lived and worked most of his life, just shy of his 74th birthday.  

Wikimedia Commons

Morandi’s Studio, Bologna, 1981 / Paolo Monti


His life was not dramatic and he was not riddled with emotional turmoil, as evidenced by his etchings and still lifes. The work is serene, cerebral, and restrained. And yet his paintings have subtle mood shifts with objects that are distinctive as dramatic character studies. This paradox of reticence and passion is seductive. It is impossible not to be moved by the sheer immensity of what Morandi does with the placement of ordinary objects. His rigorous orchestration of objects and surfaces reveals a delicate arrangement of color, shape, and interval. He helps us to stop, pay attention, and feel. 

Fondazione Magnani-Rocca ©DACS 2022

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1936


Morandi worked through different art periods‒Futuristic, Metaphysical, and Modern‒producing some of his finest and most inventive works between the years 1943-1964. He said that he regarded still life painting as “a way to transcend time…confronting inert objects, and meditating on their inherent beauty and spending an eternity in placid contemplation.” 

Standing six foot four, Morandi built a high table in his studio so he could view the objects at eye level, creating shifts in size and location. He often ground his pigments and stretched the canvases, varying proportions. He prepared many of the objects by brushing them with flat white or grayish paint. His hues are warm pastels: dull brown, red, and pink brick, yellow stucco, and rose-colored stone that were all around Morandi, from the streets of Bologna to the Emilian hillside where he walked daily. 

Fondazione Magnani-Rocca ©DACS 2022

Giorgio Morandi, Self Portrait, 1925


Morandi described himself as “a believer in Art for Art’s sake rather than Art for the sake of religion, of social justice, or of national glory. Nothing is more alien to me than an art that sets out to serve other purposes than those implied by the work of art in itself.”

About the Author

Dian Parker

Dian Parker’s essays have been published in numerous literary journals and magazines. She ran White River Gallery in Vermont, curating twenty exhibits, and now writes about art and artists for various publications. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. To find out more, visit her website

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