2 March 2023
The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art (to 30 April 2023).
By William Morton
This exhibition comprises 50 works by Giorgio Morandi from the Magnani-Rocca foundation set up by one of his biggest admirers.
Morandi (1890-1964) lived a quiet life in his native city of Bologna, sharing a flat with his three sisters. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. He was excused service in the First World War on medical grounds. He taught himself etching and was Professor of Printmaking at the Academy from 1930 until 1956.
He was an admirer of Cezanne and, like Cezanne, a large part of his output consists of still lifes – in Morandi’s case, of a quite limited range of domestic objects such as bottles and vases. These are fine if puzzling works but one is left wondering whether he was only interested in the visual effect and had nothing else in mind. He did paint some landscapes which are appealing such as The Courtyard on the Via Fondazza. There is also an interesting self-portrait of 1925 showing a self-absorbed young man holding a palette. The exhibition includes some of Morandi’s etchings, many of them still lifes of domestic items but also landscapes.
There has been some debate about Morandi’s Fascist leanings (see Waldemar Janusczczak’s review in the Sunday Times of 29 January). He was definitely involved with and a supporter of the Party in his early life. However, this is true of other acclaimed Italian artists such as Severini. Even the great rebel and father of Futurism, Marinetti, was embarrassingly close to the Mussolini regime. However, to assess art on the basis of the beliefs or lifestyle of the artist is not a road to go down. On the basis of this exhibition, Morandi was talented but perhaps limited by his subject matter. One is left with the slightly mean thought that perhaps he should have got out more.
The Estorick is a small gallery but there are some striking works in its standing collection such as Severini’s Cubist Quaker Oats, which brings Warhol to mind and The Boulevard. There is also a fine Modigliani portrait, Dr Francois Brabander.