Reawakening Morandi Through His Collection of Objects

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60 years after the Italian painter pioneered his minimalist still lives, Joel Meyerowitz photographed them in their original setting for a beautiful new book

Artist Giorgio Morandi was a veritable master of his craft. Born in the Italian province of Bologna in 1890, he dedicated his life to perfecting the minimalist still life paintings he has since become renowned for. His education in art was relatively rudimentary –  he taught himself to etch from books of Rembrandt’s work, picking up French influences along the way – Cézanne, Derain and Picasso were among his favourites – in spite of his determinedly Italian environment. As reports go, he was reserved in all things, from the quiet and polite way he conducted his relationships, to his lack of romantic attachment. He was nicknamed ‘il monaco’ for his quiet life, and lived with his sisters until his death in 1964 at the age of 73.

Above all, though, Morandi was resolutely patient. He took up long stints as a drawing teacher at various institutions, and most importantly, he learnt about colour. He was a dedicated painter of the still life, working under the natural orange light of one room in his Bologna home, with a vigorously refined assortment of ornaments, flowers, bowls, and vases and bottles filled with powdered pigments for subjects. He often spent months finishing a single painting of objects, allowing him to observe and muse upon the tonal subtlety they required, quickly becoming foremost in his field for the economical application of colour. “It takes me weeks to make up my mind which group of bottles will go well with a particular coloured tablecloth,” he once reflected. “Then it takes me weeks of thinking about the bottles themselves, and yet often I still go wrong with the spaces. Perhaps I work too fast?"

It naturally follows, therefore, that Joel Meyerowitz, a photographer who is famed for advocating the use of colour when his peers in the art world doggedly resisted it, be a passionate and committed fan of Morandi’s work. When the opportunity arose for the photographer to visit Morandi’s Bologna studio and to photograph the 270 objects the artist methodically depicted in his paintings, Meyerowitz jumped at it.

Positioned at the artist’s well-worn table, following the lines he once drew to guide him when painting, Meyerowitz allowed Morandi’s discerning eye to sing out softly through the dimming rosy light and the mottled texture of the wallpaper which formed his backdrop. He shot vessels, sculptures, hats and shells, each capturing a slightly different hour of the day to the one which preceded it. The resulting photographs, which are compiled in an exquisite new book entitled Morandi’s Objects and published by Damiani, feel distinctly collaborative in their effort; Morandi’s curatorial ideas dictate the composition of Meyerowitz’s photographs, while the shrewd focus of the camera lens picks out details in the surfaces that the original artist’s own eye neglected.

Morandi's Objects by Joel Meyerowitz is out now, published by Damiani