The tranquil power of Morandi’s œuvre is still convincing…

[23 Mar 2021]

Classical but modern, calm but intense, figurative but minimalist … beyond the paradoxes, Morandi’s paintings evoke a simplicity and immobility that seem at odds with our image-consuming lifestyles and customs.

Everything is a mystery said Morandi, ourselves and all things both humble and simple. With rigor, perseverance and modesty, the artist got as close as he could to this mystery… via objects placed on a table in his studio.

Born in 1890 in Bologna, where he spent his entire life, Giorgio MORANDI became interested in painting from an early age. Although he studied art at Bologna’s Fine Arts Academy (1907-1913), his personal research was a greater influence on him than the education offered by the Academy. He seems to have been particularly impressed by Paul CÉZANNE’s black and white works which appeared to offer new pictorial avenues. Devoid of colour, the Father of Modernity’s images highlighted the constructed presence of the subjects painted.

Another key moment for Morandi was his discovery of reproductions of Giorgio DE CHIRICO’s metaphysical paintings in the late 1910s. In de Chirico’s enigmatic works, strange associations of objects seem frozen in a precise moment. Nothing moves, and everything seems governed by great laws that we cannot understand.

Inspired by these discoveries, Morandi began refining the principles of his artistic approach and settled on a visual vocabulary in the 1930s. Alongside his exploration of the motif, he began painting landscapes of the Grizzana region close to Bologna. Above all, he started painting everyday objects, apparently delighted by the simplicity of their shapes and their nuances of colour. Bottles, boxes, ceramics of all types, table corners… behind the banality of the subjects that he painted tirelessly for forty years, Morandi saw (and allows us to see) the delicacy of a presence, the balance, the quietness and the modesty…  even the meditative quality. Something indefinable transcends these simple objects, and this is indeed the magic of Morandi’s work.

“Some can travel the world and see nothing of it. To understand this world, we should avoid seeing too much of it, but rather look closely at what we do see” (Morandi)

A relatively closed circle of international buyers

Morandi’s painting is as confidential (in the market sense) as it is recognized and sought after. Indeed this apparent contradiction applies equally to his œuvre and to his career. In his solitary and single-minded quest for some form of ultimate harmony, Giorgio Morandi led a quasi-monastic life in a 9m2 bedroom-studio. A life entirely dedicated to a creativity that was a perfect reflection of his persona… i.e. raw and without theatricalization. The formats are modest, the subjects are intimate, the palettes are limited and the production was slow. In 1939, he painted only six canvases. However, after World War II (between 1948 until his death in 1964), he produced more than half of his total output production.

Morandi rarely traveled outside Italy and never beyond Europe. He nevertheless established himself during his lifetime as a major artist on the international scene. In 1948, he won the first prize for painting at the Venice Biennale. The following year he had a first institutional exhibition at the Brussels Museum of Fine Art. In the following years he was awarded several prestigious prizes (Grand Prize for Engraving at the São Paulo Biennale, Grand Prize for Painting at the IVe Biennale in the 1950s) and his work was acquired by numerous public collections, including the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Tate Modern in London and the Metropolitan in New York, which devoted a retrospective to him in 2008 in partnership with Bologna’s Morandi Museum.

In the very recent past his work has been the subject of a number of important exhibitions from the south of France to Beijing… The exhibition of his work at the Museum of Grenoble has been extended until July (Giorgio Morandi. In the collection of Luigi Magnani). Another has just been completed at the M Woods Museum in Beijing. This was Morandi’s first solo exhibition in a Chinese museum. The artist – “who owned a dozen books on traditional Chinese art” recalls the curator of the exhibition Victor Wang – is appreciated in China both for his palette and for the intimacy emanating from his works. Some Chinese scholars even compare the sense of peace emanating from his works to the works of the Song Dynasty, created centuries ago. In market terms, his work is well received in China, and two of his paintings fetched around $1.5 million each at auction houses that seek to forge links between Chinese art and Western art (in Shanghai and Hangzhou).

Morandi’s prices

Enjoying strong demand worldwide, his best still-life canvases regularly sell for over a million US dollars at auction. His landscapes fetch less. Some still go for under $300,000. In geographical terms, his best results are generated in the United States with the Italian market coming second. In 2020 he was Italy’s most successful artist. The country’s top three fine art auction results last year were all for works by Morandi. His watercolors on paper sell for between $30,000 and recently $60,000. Morandi taught engravings all his life at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts and won the Grand Prix at the São Paulo Biennale in 1953 in  that medium. It was clearly a highly skilled engraver. While some plates are available for less than $5,000, others are worth 10 times that price.

In short… Morandi’s market is in good shape. $100 invested in one of his works 20 years ago is worth an average of $250 today, an increase of +150% (of which + 5% in the year 2020 alone).

Price Indice at auction

Geography of Morandi’s auction turnover (2010-2020)