A Backward Glance

  • April 12 – October 6, 2019
  • Curated by: Petra Joos, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in collaboration with Giovanni Casini, and in consultation with Vivien Greene, Senior Curator of 19th- and Early 20th-Century Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents A Backward Glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters. This survey of a great 20th-century Italian painter explores the relationships between his still lifes and some of his main art historical sources. Sponsored by Iberdrola, this exhibition brings together, for the first time, an extensive selection of Morandi’s exceptional paintings and works by the Old Masters who impacted his artistic practice, which spanned over four decades, from post-World War I to the early 1960s.

“I felt that only an understanding of the most vital works that painting had produced through the past centuries could guide me in finding my own way.” Giorgio Morandi

Morandi was an insightful student of art history who had multiple referents in mind when developing his artistic practice. The exhibition explores historical influences, all of which precede the 19th century, from three different European countries: 17th-century Spanish painting and the tradition of the bodegón; the Bolognese school of painting from the late 16th to early 18th centuries; and the 18th-century, French painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Each section examines a feature prominent in Morandi’s works: the theatricality of the Spaniards, the naturalism of the Italian Seicento, and the intimacy and geometry of Chardin.

Beginning in 1920 Giorgio Morandi (b. 1890, Bologna; d. 1964) devoted himself to the analysis of objects (bottles, flower vases, boxes, tins) and landscapes, which he reduced to their essential forms. The artist rendered his favorite objects again and again arranging them in subtly different ways, focusing on the infinite pictorial possibilities these trivial, domestic items provided. His figurative works stand out from other 20th-century paintings for their unique intensity, beauty, and timelessness. Representing the most mundane objects, Morandi’s still lifes, which are extraordinarily personal in terms of composition and the use of color and light, reveal the artist’s pursuit of pure and concentrated forms.

Throughout his career, Morandi looked to several European schools of painting. The still lifes that he created between the 1920s and the early 1960s evidence the power of the art he studied. However, Morandi only saw a few of the actual paintings that inspired him in person at museums or in exhibitions. Primarily, he discovered Old Master works through reproductions in books and journals or through art historical scholarship.