Respect For The Masters

In Painting 1, the final assignment included a finished duplication of a work by one of the Masters.  It takes more than you fathom to become a master at anything.  I picked a sinple-enough looking painting by Giorgio Morandi, a 20th-Century artist from Bologna, Italy.  The second part of the was an essay, 2 to 3 pages, covering the artist, his or her process, and my own personal experience trying to recreate his mastery.

Here’s what I came up with:




My version

         My essay:

           An oil painting on canvas (24.8cm x 28cm/9.76in x 11.02in), Still Life with Three Containers(1960) by Italian artist Giorgio Morandi appears to be a simplistic piece.  Upon closer inspection, Morandi’s mastery of the natura morta becomes more evident.  So much so that one might think it impossible to duplicate.  Therein lies the challenge…

For Still Life with Three Containers, Morandi (1890-1964, 73 years) uses several ochres, from red to gold to yellow, umbers dark and light, white, and a pinkish tone; the result is that much of the painting is drenched in shades of taupe. The palette creates a background which essentially fades away, leaving the objects on the tabletop to provide much of the focus.  His tones are so subtly mixed that the border between the background and the neck of the bottle is almost imperceptible.

Morandi’s technique suggests a painting that changes as he drives towards completion.  However, one can deduce that he arrives exactly where intended.  It appears to begin with a large brush, making broad strokes—along the top half in yellow oxide, a pinkish hue down below.   From there, Morandi likely builds the bottle, which stands tall in the center of the piece.  The two additional objects, a cylinder and a vase, take their positions before the bottle.

In contemplating the whole, one sees Morandi’s brushstrokes among an otherwise-solid background.  Morandi reveals  a sense of intention:  The background, natural and unassuming, serves primarily to foster the interconnectedness of the three-piece focus of the still life.

Morandi establishes a light source which approaches the objects from the left.  Dark shadows along the right edges of the objects combine with a gradually graying shadow cast upon the tabletop to complete the contrast.  Since the left edge of the bottle’s top and neck blend into the background, Morandi takes care to establish a deep shadow—in fact, the darkest area of the painting.

This dark edge leads the observer’s eye down to the division between background and tabletop, where found is a fading shadow.  The eye returns to the center and the cylindrical object.  The shadows on the cylinder depicts the strongest light contrast of the piece.  From right to left, the shading starts by allowing a small portion of the vessel’s pink hue to come through.  The shade is deepest in the center of the cylinder; then it gives way to a bright, pastel pink—a lip, hot and swelling in the middle of this muted masterpiece.

Once the observer pulls himself or herself away from the heat, the light again plays along length of the vase.  Morandi creates the illusion of three dimensions by allowing ridges to carve shadows into the light.  Having come full circle, the observer can again contemplate the whole with a more intimate awareness of the parts.

Morandi complicates what should be simple objects by placing them within an environment with blurred edges.  Though together, the vase, the bottle and the cylinder feel lonely.  In order to escape the bleakness of their existence, they huddle as one and share shadows.  Nicknamed “il monaco” (the monk) for his reclusive lifestyle, Morandi intimates his objects as an attempt to flee from loneliness.

I chose Giorgio Morandi and his Still Live with Three Containers because that’s what my professor recommended.  At first, I felt little to no personal connection to the artist or the painting.  My research revealed a man who withdrew from society—Morandi, that is.  I related to the idea of freedom.  I also learned that he preferred, in his late work, to focus on simple objects.  His variations came by playing with light; living in a small apartment, Morandi preferred natural light so he painted at all times of day.

I spent hours on my reproduction, day and night.  My painting space remained flooded with light in order to best see my subject and to mix the colors as perfectly as I could.  Over too many sessions to count, I spent hours trying to get the nuances of color and brushstroke.  A few times, I started from scratch, mixed a new shade, then began again on an area.  Getting the colors just right presented the greatest challenge.  And Utrecht doesn’t carry purplish-gray with touches of pink or lavender or whatever-it-is-in-there.   My attempts to match Morandi’s work fell noticeably short, though I learned much about myself and my process in the, well, in the process.  While painting, I gratefully got lost in the work; hours passed unnoticed but for the piles of paint upon my palettes and the strokes upon the canvas.

Morandi said “Nothing is more abstract than reality.”  I hadn’t known until my Master Reproduction was practically completed that he and I have a shared take on existence.  It’s funny.  Morandi didn’t need much to make him happy; to him, it was enough to understand, or attempt to understand, the many incarnations of the simpler things.  Life needn’t be complicated, just appreciated.

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