Exceptional Works: Giorgio Morandi, Fiori | David Zwirner
Header image with title: Exceptional Works, Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (flowers), 1915.
An oil painting on canvas by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori (Flowers), dated 1915.

“Nothing is more abstract than reality.’’ —Giorgio Morandi

In 1915, the young Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964) created Fiori (Flowers), an early masterpiece and one of the first paintings by the artist to exhibit his fascination with depicting simple, everyday objects as a means of investigating the formal properties of the visual and material world. 

Fiori points toward the future work for which Morandi would come to be widely celebrated; it is one of only thirty-four documented works Morandi painted and kept before his so-called Metaphysical period of the late 1910s. 

This online presentation showcases this pivotal work, one of the only works by Morandi from this period to exist in private hands outside of Italy.

Giorgio Morandi's Studio. Photo by Paolo Monti. Servizio fotografico: Bologna, 1981.

Sanford Roth, Giorgio Morandi, c. 1946–62, scan from a 35mm negative. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Beulah Roth Bequest. © Museum Associates/LACMA

Sanford Roth, Giorgio Morandi, c. 1946–62, scan from a 35mm negative. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Beulah Roth Bequest. © Museum Associates/LACMA

A painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori (flowers), dated 1915.

Giorgio Morandi

Fiori (Flowers), 1915
Oil on canvas
29 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches (75 x 45 cm)
An oil painting on canvas by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori (Flowers), dated 1915.

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1915 (detail)

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1915 (detail)

“The painting exhibits several of the features that would become defining elements in Morandi’s art such as a high horizon line and a base and background reduced to flat bands of color. The vase, which dominates the center, is devoid of lines of depth and almost hovers in a totally undefined space. The flowers appear like a hat placed on top of the vase, the two shades contrasting with each other as simple elements of color.” —Laura Mattioli

Morandi painted Fiori in Grizzana, in the Apennine Mountains in Italy, where he would spend the hottest months of the year with his family.

A view of View of Grizzana (now called Grizzana Morandi), in Italy.

Grizzana Morandi, 1981. Photo by Paolo Monti

Grizzana Morandi, 1981. Photo by Paolo Monti

A painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Landscape at Grizzana, dated 1942.

Giorgio Morandi, Landscape at Grizzana, 1942. Pitti Palace, Florence

Giorgio Morandi, Landscape at Grizzana, 1942. Pitti Palace, Florence

Measuring at almost a meter tall, the painting is uniquely large for Morandi’s oeuvre. Its sizable scale and vertical format and the extreme frontality of the pitcher further project the object into the space of the viewer and give the form a distinctly anthropomorphic quality.

 

Here, David Leiber introduces Fiori and the story behind this work.

 

Image: Paolo Monti, Studio Morandi, 1981

A photo of a book about Cezanne, and a painting by Paul Cezanne titled Bowl and milk Jug, dated 1973_1877.

Left: Sedici Opere di Cezanne (Florence: Libreria della Voce, 1914); Right: Paul Cézanne, Bowl and Milk Jug, c. 1873-1877. Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Chuo City, Japan

Left: Sedici Opere di Cezanne (Florence: Libreria della Voce, 1914); Right: Paul Cézanne, Bowl and Milk Jug, c. 1873-1877. Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Chuo City, Japan

Cézanne’s complete refiguring of the formal and material precepts of painting were especially influential to Morandi. The rough unmodulated facture in Fiori illustrates the impact the master post-Impressionist had on Morandi at this time.

“With the help of a few carefully chosen critical and visual aids, [Morandi] purposefully turned toward French painting in the line of descent from Cézanne, painting pictures with a solid constructive sense in a narrow but highly modulated palette.” —Flavio Fergonzi, in The Mattioli Collection: Masterpieces of the Italian Avant-Garde

A painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori (flowers), dated 1917.

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1917. Gianni Mattioli Collection, Italy

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1917. Gianni Mattioli Collection, Italy

A painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori (flowers), dated 1913.

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1913. Gianni Mattioli Collection, Italy

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1913. Gianni Mattioli Collection, Italy

A painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori, dated 1916.

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1916. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1916. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

”Morandi created very few fully realized paintings early in his career, from 1913 to 1920, a time in which he experimented in his own way with the historical avant-garde. He destroyed many works with which he was not satisfied, and he made a handful of relatively large paintings, such as this work, which represented important commitments for him. Looking at the sequence of works from this time—before 1920—it can be said that flowers and still lifes of objects held the same importance and required the same level of commitment for him.’’ —Laura Mattioli

”One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things but to look hard at what you do see.’’ —Giorgio Morandi

The dislocated planes, earth-tone palette, and flat, stagelike background of Fiori also shows affinities to the art of Pablo Picasso, André Derain, and Henri Rousseau, among other renowned modernists from this time.

A painting by Pablo Picasso, titled Nude with Pitcher, dated 1906.

Pablo Picasso, Nude with a Pitcher, summer 1906. The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pablo Picasso, Nude with a Pitcher, summer 1906. The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A painting by Andre Derain, titled Still Life with Pitcher and Loaf of Bread, dated 1912.

André Derain, Still Life with Pitcher and Loaf of Bread, 1912. Bequest of Marianne Littman, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon

André Derain, Still Life with Pitcher and Loaf of Bread, 1912. Bequest of Marianne Littman, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon

A painting by Henri Rousseau, titled Bouquet of Flowers with China Asters and Tokyos, dated 1910.

Henri Rousseau, Bouquet of Flowers with China Asters and Tokyos (Bouquet de fleurs aux reines-marguerites et aux tokyos), 1910. Barnes Foundation, Merion and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Henri Rousseau, Bouquet of Flowers with China Asters and Tokyos (Bouquet de fleurs aux reines-marguerites et aux tokyos), 1910. Barnes Foundation, Merion and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“He would slip away from Bologna to visit his mentors in the area: Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, and Uccello. Morandi lived in his studio like a (highly informed) hermit.... What could be more poetic than the clarity of this artist’s life and work?”
—David Leiber

A painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Natura morta (Still Life), dated 1914.

Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta (Still Life), 1914. Augosto and Francesca Giovanardi Collection, Milan

Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta (Still Life), 1914. Augosto and Francesca Giovanardi Collection, Milan

A painting by Cezanne, Still life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, 1879-1880.

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, 1879-1880. Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, 1879-1880. Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection

In 1919, Morandi gave his friend and fellow painter Carlo Carra some pigment, saying, “[These are] the last pieces of a beautiful red earth (terra rossa) dug up, at one time, in the environs of Assisi and that for a long time has been unobtainable. Mixed with white it gives a beautiful pink such as one sees in the ancient frescoes.”

A detail from a painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori, dated 2015.

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1915 (detail)

Giorgio Morandi, Fiori (Flowers), 1915 (detail)

A photo of Morandi's studio by Francois Halard.

Giorgio Morandi's Studio, Grizzana. Bologna, 2017. Photo by Francois Halard. © Francois Halard

Giorgio Morandi's Studio, Grizzana. Bologna, 2017. Photo by Francois Halard. © Francois Halard

The shape and form of the pitcher in Fiori, one of the first instances in which he painted such an object, captivated Morandi. Similar vessels appear in numerous subsequent still lifes, and the original objects can be seen in numerous photographs of his studio.

Significant related early works include two 1914 still lifes in the collections of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and the Museo d’arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Roverto, Italy, both of which illustrate the influence of Cubism on Morandi. Still Life (Natura morta(1916), another experimental early composition by the artist, is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

A painting by Giorgio Morandi, titled Still Life, dated 1916.

Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta (Still Life), 1916. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Art Resource New York. © 2020 Giorgio Morandi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta (Still Life), 1916. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Art Resource New York. © 2020 Giorgio Morandi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Fiori is documented  as Vitali no. 20 in Lamberto Vitali, Morandi. Catalogo generale. Volume primo, 1913–1947. Notably, the work is illustrated with a full page image.

In 2019, Fiori was featured in A Backwards Glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters at the Guggenheim Bilbao. This critically acclaimed exhibition examined the historical artistic influences on Morandi’s art.

Installation view, A backward glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters, Guggenheim Bilbao, in 2019.

Installation view, A Backward Glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters, Guggenheim Bilbao, 2019

Installation view, A Backward Glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters, Guggenheim Bilbao, 2019

An oil painting on canvas by Giorgio Morandi, titled Fiori (Flowers), dated 1915.
A photo of Giorgio Morandi Leo Lionni.

Giorgio Morandi, 1955. Photo by Leo Lionni. © 1955 Leo Lionni. Used with permission of the Lionni family

Giorgio Morandi, 1955. Photo by Leo Lionni. © 1955 Leo Lionni. Used with permission of the Lionni family

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