Can I ever draw bottles without thinking of Morandi? Certainly not when I’m drawing the stoneware bottles they keep lined up on the window sills at Filmore & Union in the Redbrick Mill in Batley.
My first commission after leaving college was to spend a weekend drawing at a house, a Victorian vicarage, not far from Oxford. I took down my Natural History Illustration degree show at the Royal College of Art, got on the train to Oxford and enjoyed drawing for a long weekend. My favourite subject was the interior of the potting shed, which included a wooden wheelbarrow, tools, a trug and, of course, stacks of assorted terra cotta plant pots. That pen drawing became the centre spread of the small sketchbook that I produced, which consisted of eight or perhaps as many as a dozen pages, carefully extracted from my Bushey foolscap sketchbook, which they had bound as a slim hardback.
I remember thinking that if this was life after college, I could get used to it, as it was basically a continuation of what I’d done at college, just draw, draw, draw, day in day out, except that now someone was willing to pay me to do it!
The man who I was working for had been in the British Army in Bologna during World War II, and had befriended Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) and, I think, helped him out during a difficult time. Morandi presented him with (or more probably, he bought from Morandi) a small sketchbook of drawings – of bottles, naturally. Morandi had used whatever had come to hand and my memory is that at least some of the drawings were in ballpoint pen on cheap paper.
Morandi’s bottles were never as standoffish as the bottles in Filmore & Union, but I guess that’s the reserved character of British bottles compared with Morandi’s highly sociable Italian bottiglie, which were always getting together with boxes, jars, jugs and vases.
When I was a student, my favourite painting in the National Gallery was Vuillard’s La Cheminée but probably, if I had the choice today, the painting that I’d most like to live with would be a small Morandi.