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Updated: May 31, 2023

"Masterpieces from the Magnani-Rocca Foundation"

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, N1

Extended to 28 May 2023

Stiff competition - GIORGIO MORANDI beat JACKSON POLLOCK Sao Paulo Biennale 1957. Good taste - PRESIDENT OBAMA picked two Morandi’s for the White House. @estorick @MagnaniRocca 

Top left to right: Still Life, 1960; Self Portrait, 1925; Still Life 1936

Bottom left to right: Flowers 1942; Courtyard on Via Fondazza, 1954; Still Life with Six Objects 1930


On entering the Estorick, at first glance (Gallery 1), Giorgio Morandi’s paintings present like "works in progress" (Still Life, 1962 Pencil on paper; Still Life, 1960 Watercolour on paper) which is charming but a bit puzzling when expecting “Masterpieces from the Magnani-Rocca Foundation”. But then quite suddenly, there are Morandi’s unassuming, beautiful oils - Flowers, 1942 Fiori & Still Life, 1936 - and you realise, here is a Modern artist who deserves his place in art history as “one of the most significant figures of modern Italian art”.

Morandi was born in Bologna in 1890 and died in the same city in 1964. Morandi chose his buyers, and his preferred patron was the art collector and critic, Luigi Magnani (1906-1984), who promoted Morandi’s art. During his life Morandi was active in the contemporary Italian art scene and engaged in debates on Futurism and Metaphysical Art.

He was an acclaimed artist and exhibited in many exhibitions at home and abroad including London (Tate Gallery 1950) and New York (Delius Gallery 1955). In 1948 he won the prize for painting at the first Venice Biennale since the war. In 1952 he was elected to the Swedish Academy. But it wasn’t until 1956 that he left Italy for the first time to attend an exhibition of his works at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in Switzerland.

The Estorick exhibition is largely made up of still life (natura morta) oils, pencils, watercolours and etchings, all exquisite and evidence of Morandi’s virtuosity in a variety of mediums. Described as a reclusive man, Morandi looked to everyday objects around him for inspiration - vases, bottles and flowers. The works are presented in various aged frames, a collection in themselves.

Gallery 2 showcases dozens of Morandi’s etchings from zinc plate, a technique he perfected and taught for several years at Bologna’s Academy of Fine Arts/Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna. Geraniums and Wire Fence 1928 is a fine example of his landscape works with the fencing segmenting sections of a farmhouse scene beyond. There are more still life’s to appreciate in Gallery 2: Still Life 1960 & 1959. Still Life 1963 is a simple watercolour outline of jugs with barely discernible colours which have that deceptive “in progress” appearance.

Gallery 4 on the upper floors of the Estorick have a few more Morandi’s worth checking out which belong to the Estorick’s permanent collection. Still Life with Five Objects 1956 is a remarkable etching in which the jugs positively shine with suggestions of light in bold streaks.

There are few examples of Morandi’s portraits and landscapes in the Magnani-Rocca exhibition as he tended to favour depicting objects. An impressive landscape, The Courtyard on Via Fondazza 1954 is a view of the town from behind a large, chalky, villa wall which is a perfect lesson in perspective and an example of Morandi’s distinctive use of subtle colour and tonality. In fact, there is only one portrait - Self-Portrait 1925 – a rare and enlightening painting, showing the man himself and a contemplative artist at work.


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