'Soothing and curious, their simplicity took my breath away'

Natura Morta, 1956, by Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964), 113⁄4in by 173⁄4in, Galleria d’arte moderna di Bologna, Italy.

Penelope Wilton says:
‘On a recent trip to Bologna, I went to the Museo Morandi and saw at least 50 of the artist’s works. I happened to be completely alone and wandered up and down, seemingly looking at practically the same painting: bottles, jars, thin containers or cardboard boxes standing side by side in neat rows. The colours were all from the same soft, muted palette: creamy foregrounds, soft peach, white, greys, browns with a tinge of orange. Of course, these are objects we all probably use or see every day, but he made me look at them with a new eye. They have become beautiful shapes, complicated and compelling. I find the quiet, reflective quality of Morandi’s paintings soothing and curious and their simplicity took my breath away’

Downton Abbey star Penelope Wilton can be seen in Taken at Midnight at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, until 14 March 2015 and in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel from February 27.

John McEwan comments:
When Richard Demarco selected Morandi for this page (October 21, 2009), he cited the late Scottish painter Earl Haig RSA, who described Morandi’s art as ‘the jumping-off point for a visual and spiritual experience’. Mr Demarco wrote that a Morandi still life ‘provides proof positive that modern art can aspire to the condition of prayer’. Haig visited Morandi with the painter Derek hill in 1950. Morandi lived with his three sisters in a small flat in a modern apartment block in Bologna, his birthplace. Haig wrote: ‘The sisters shared a room with a Madonna hanging above their beds. Perhaps the very ordinariness of their surroundings helped Morandi to be transported into a metaphysical state of mind, as he meditated in front of his tin boxes with their painted sides… Morandi’s way of life seemed to me so simple, and he was shocked by the high prices which his dealers were able to ask for his work… he reduced the sunlight in his studio by means of a gauze screen which he attached to his windows, and by this means a diffuse light was filtered on to the objects of his still life, which had been specially selected or painted to give a pleasing relation- ship of shape, tone and colour… he spent many hours contemplating the objects of the still life… The actual painting took only a short time, perhaps two hours… his technique was to use only a few colours put on directly and cleanly… With his sensitive brush strokes the marble jars and tin boxes were caressed into a life of their own.’

This article was originally published in Country Life, January 21, 2015

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