In 1912, he taught himself to etch using old manuals, and printmaking became an important creative outlet for him. He discovered avant-garde art through books on Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and was inspired by the art of Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Georges Seurat. During this period, he often travelled to Florence and Rome to study works by the great masters of the Italian Renaissance.
During the early years of his career, Morandi experimented with both Cubism and Futurism. In 1917, he became engaged in the Pittura Metafisica movement, led by Giorgio di Chirico and Carlo Carrà. However, he soon developed an independent style of painting that centred on simple still-life compositions of everyday objects.
Using the same motifs from canvas to canvas, he studied the way subtle shifts in the placement, angle or lighting of these items produced different pictorial effects. Over the years, he built a rich collection of bottles, boxes, tins, jugs, bowls and clocks which he painted in multiple different groupings and configurations. Many of these were sourced from local flea-markets. He removed any labels or distinguishing marks from these objects, sometimes covering them with grey or soft white paint.
As well as his still-life paintings, Morandi was inspired by the Italian landscape. He regularly depicted the view from the window of his apartment in Bologna as well as the countryside around Grizzana, a small rural village in the Apennines.
Renowned for his cautious and disciplined approach to painting, Morandi spent a great deal of time planning and preparing his compositions. This sometimes included stretching his own canvases and making his own pigments. A rare oval-shaped canvas, Natura morta, set an auction record for Morandi in May 2018 when it sold for $4.3 million as part of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller.
A lifelong bachelor, the artist lived most of his adult life in a modest apartment at the heart of Bologna with his three sisters. His bedroom doubled as a studio, containing his easel, materials and collection of favourite objects. He rarely left Italy and spent most of his time hidden away painting, earning him the nickname Il Monaco (‘The Monk’).
However, Morandi’s international fame grew after World War II. In 1948, he represented Italy at the Venice Biennale and in 1957, won the Grand Prize for painting at the São Paulo Biennale. These successes allowed him to give up his teaching job and focus exclusively on his art. The early 1950s also saw a significant shift in his still-lifes, which became increasingly abstract. When the artist died in 1964, aged 73, his home and studio were preserved in Bologna as the Casa Morandi.