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Bilbao Guggenheim Museum dedicates a solo exhibition to Giorgio Morandi
This month, a major exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao examines the formation of Giorgio Morandi’s practice. While the small-scale still lifes and landscapes for which he is best known are associated with no specific painterly school, Morandi looked to many sources in creating his work. With this presentation, Guggenheim curator Petra Joos aims to expand on the monographic approach seen in a number of retrospectives and solo exhibitions to date, presenting his work in the context of artists he studied and drew inspiration from.

A Backward Glance explores three precedents from three European countries, focusing on premodernist, pre-nineteenth-century references. These are Spanish seventeenth-century painting and the still-life tradition, the Bolognese painters from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries, and the still-life and genre works of the eighteenth-century French artist Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Morandi imbued his images of vases, bottles, and boxes with all the theatricality of the Spanish Golden Age, the naturalism of the Italian Seicento, and the intimacy that Chardin brought to the world of everyday objects.

Although Morandi left Bologna only on rare occasions, he was an accomplished time traveler. A perspicacious student of art history, he looked to a great many sources for his own formation as an artist. A Backward Glance examines a specific aspect of Morandi’s work: the role of Old Master painting in his own production. Through an analysis of the still lifes he produced from the 1920s to the 1960s, the exhibition traces the connections between these images and those by the artists Morandi appreciated and studied. This exploration reveals mechanisms related less to influence or appropriation and more to elective affinities with the artists who came before him.

Morandi’s enthusiasm for Spanish Golden Age art coincided with the rediscovery in Italy of its principal masters. The critic and art historian Roberto Longhi, whom Morandi admired and later befriended, had already drawn attention in his writings to Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Zurbarán. In 1930, Longhi curated the exhibition Gli antichi pittori spagnoli della collezione Contini-Bonacossi at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. The Contini-Bonacossi Old Master collection, the largest in Italy, included a magnificent set of Spanish pictures by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Velázquez, and Zurbarán. In his introduction to the catalogue, Longhi stressed the particular importance of the exhibition for contemporary artists, which explained the decision to hold it at Italy’s leading modern art museum, and he described Zurbarán as the “greatest constructor of forms with light, following Caravaggio and anticipating Cézanne,” declaring him a “proto-modern” artist.

Giorgio Morandi
Still Life (Natura morta), 1949  
Oil on canvas  
30 x 45 cm      
Nahmad Collection
© Giorgio Morandi, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2019