Death and dissolving boundaries – Morandi, Klimt, Dix

Experiencing both the dying of a friend and of a colleague this summer, reminded me of Morandi’s paintings during the last few years of his life.

Morandi (1890 – 1964) was an Italian painter and printmaker noted for his still lifes. He painted vessels made for everyday use such as bowls, jars, bottles, jugs, cups, vases. One can recognize the same vessels from painting to painting, differing in their geometrical arrangements and the tonal subtlely of their colors. Shadows gives these vessels a spatial context.

What struck me was the appearance of dissolving boundaries of the vessels painted during the last few years of Morandi’s life. In a 1960 painting, the top left of the tall vessel is barely distinct from the background.

In a 1963 painting , an excerpt shown here, the top left of the tall vessel only shows a faint delineation from the background, barely noticeable in this small photo. Note that the colors are becoming more mute.

In a 1964 painting, the year Morandi died, the left top of the tall vessel fully merges with the background. At an exhibition of this still life at the MET, a note next to it showed a comment Morandi made before his death which went something like this ‘I still have so many of my ideas to realize‘.

Dissolving boundaries are also apparent in the last painting by Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918), an Austrian symbolist painter, done half a century earlier. His painting, now called the ‘Tänzerin’ (Dancer), is reputed to have been begun as a commission in 1916 to memorialize a daughter who had committed suicide. But the parents rejected their commmissioned painting. Shortly before his death in 1918, Klimt altered the painting to show a young woman with bare breasts. Note that the flowers of the girl’s skirt are merging with the flowers of the background. This painting can be seen in the Neue Gallery, NYC.

Rather than denoting the imminent death of the painter, Otto Dix‘s painting coincides with the death of a civilization. Otto Dix (1891 – 1969) taught at the art academy in Dresden but lost his job in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. His work was exhibited by the Nazis together with that of other German artists as ‘entartete Kunst’ (degenerative art). Together with Georg Grosz, Dix was a representative of the Weimar Republic movement ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ (new objectivity) following German Expressionism. Unlike Grosz who emigrated to the USA, but like Jeanne Mammen, Dix went into an inner emigration and survived economically with commissioned work by friends. In his 1935 painting Mother and Eva, the mother’s deeply wrinkled face resembles the bark of the tree. The face merges with the tree. Mother, during the death of the vibrant civilization in Germany, looks into the distance, rather than relating to the child, the rosy-faced Eva, not shown in this excerpt.

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