A Backward Glance: Giorgio Morandi at the Guggenheim Bilbao

Giorgio Morandi – Flowers (Fiori ), 1950 -© Giorgio Morandi, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2019

Giorgio Morandi is memories of my childhood and my hours of art history studying in the afternoon but also maybe something that you are less interested when you are a teenager. Only recently I seem more keen in his work and not only for his paintings and techniques but mostly for his subjects: vessels. And for me is all about vessels nowadays. In fact, last year I started studying pottery and since then Morandi has been very inspiring… After the summer break I will explore some of his work and trying make things in ceramics. Meanwhile I just spotted this exhibition in Spain at the gorgeous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Here some notes for you.

The Bolognese painter Giorgio Morandi represented everyday objects in his still lifes, distilling the mundane subject matter to its pure, essential form in his compositions.

Giorgio Morandi – Still Life (Natura morta ), 1949
© Giorgio Morandi, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2019


– This exhibition brings together, for the first time, Morandi’s signature paintings and a selection of Old Master works that informed his artistic practice throughout his career.

– Each of the three galleries creates a dialogue between Morandi’s paintings and specific Old Master works and highlights prominent qualities the Italian artist absorbed from these precursors: the theatricality of 17th-century Spanish painting; the naturalism of the Italian Seicento; and the intimacy and geometry of Chardin.

Giorgio Morandi – Still Life (Natura morta ), 1936
© Giorgio Morandi, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2019

– Morandi concentrated on discrete details in the Old Master canvases that he admired, such as El Greco’s flowers; Zurbarán’s use of light to evince form; the humble details in the compositions of Crespi, an 18th-century Bolognese artist; and Chardin’s houses of cards.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents A Backward Glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters. This survey of a great 20th-century Italian painter explores the relationships between his still lifes and some of his main art historical sources. Sponsored by Iberdrola, this exhibition brings together, for the first time, an extensive selection of Morandi’s exceptional paintings and works by the Old Masters who impacted his artistic practice, which spanned over four decades, from post-World War I to the early 1960s.

Giorgio Morandi – Still Life (Natura morta ), 1951
© Giorgio Morandi, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2019

“I felt that only an understanding of the most vital works that painting had produced through the past centuries could guide me in finding my own way.” Giorgio Morandi was an insightful student of art history who had multiple referents in mind when developing his artistic practice. The exhibition explores historical influences, all of which precede the 19th century, from three different European countries: 17th-century Spanish painting and the tradition of the bodegón; the Bolognese school of painting from the late 16th to early 18th centuries; and the 18th-century, French painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Each section examines a feature prominent in Morandi’s works: the theatricality of the Spaniards, the naturalism of the Italian Seicento, and the intimacy and geometry of Chardin.

Beginning in 1920 Giorgio Morandi (b. 1890, Bologna; d. 1964) devoted himself to the analysis of objects (bottles, flower vases, boxes, tins) and landscapes, which he reduced to their essential forms. The artist rendered his favorite objects again and again arranging them in subtly different ways, focusing on the infinite pictorial possibilities these trivial, domestic items provided. His figurative works stand out from other 20th-century paintings for their unique intensity, beauty, and timelessness. Representing the most mundane objects, Morandi’s still lifes, which are extraordinarily personal in terms of composition and the use of color and light, reveal the artist’s pursuit of pure and concentrated forms.

Throughout his career, Morandi looked to several European schools of painting. The still lifes that he created between the 1920s and the early 1960s evidence the power of the art he studied. However, Morandi only saw a few of the actual paintings that inspired him in person at museums or in exhibitions.

Primarily, he discovered Old Master works through reproductions in books and journals or through art historical scholarship.

Discover more on the Museum Website. The exhibition A Backward Glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters is on until the 6th of October 2019.

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