Saturday, 13 April 2013


“Ah, there are so many things betwixt heaven and earth of which only the poets have dreamed!” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Art Sunday is dedicated today to Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978). De Chirico was born in Volos, Greece into the family of an Italian railroad engineer. In the years before World War I, he founded the scuola metafisica art movement, which profoundly influenced the surrealists. After 1919, he became interested in traditional painting techniques, and worked in a neoclassical or neo-Baroque style, while frequently revisiting the metaphysical themes of his earlier work.

After studying art in Athens (mainly under the guidance of the influential Greek painter Georgios Roilos), and in Florence, De Chirico moved to Germany in 1906, following his father’s death in 1905. He entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he read the writings of the philosophers Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and Otto Weininger, and studied the works of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger.

He returned to Italy in the summer of 1909 and spent six months in Milan. At the beginning of 1910, he moved to Florence where he painted the first of his “Metaphysical Town Square” series. In 1910, de Chirico moved to Paris where he made contact with Picasso and befriended Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), French poet and leader of the avant-garde movement rejecting poetic traditions in outlook, rhythm, and language. In Paris de Chirico began to produce highly troubling dreamlike pictures of deserted cities, e.g. “The Great Tower”, “The Soothsayer’s Recompense”, “Mystery and Melancholy of a Street”. These were paintings with an incogruous combinations of images that carried a charge of mystery. The same haunting shapes tend to appear again and again in poetic combinations.

In 1917 in the Ferrara military hospital, de Chirico met a compatriot, also a painter, Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), and together they founded the Metaphysical Painting movement. Although the movement was short-lived, it was perhaps the most original and important movement in Italian art of the 20th century, and the highest point in de Chirico’s painting career. De Chirico’s metaphysical paintings were hugely influential on Surrealist artists, who recognised in them the eloquent expression of the unconscious and nonsensical to which they themselves aspired. “In words and by example, Ernst, Tanguy, Magritte, and Dali, among others, showed a rare unity in acknowledging de Chirico as a forerunner master.” (in “Modern Art” by Sam Hunter et al. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2000).

In 1918 de Chirico and Carrà contributed to the periodical “Valori Plastici” which gave a literary aspect to Metaphysical painting. By the 1930s, however, de Chirico had moved to a more conventional form of expression. His great interest in archaeology and history took the form of Neo-Baroque paintings full of horses, still-lives, and portraits. The Surrealists, in particular, condemned his later work. In 1929 de Chirico wrote “Hebdomeros”, a dream novel; but in the 1930s, after he had returned to Italy, he renounced all his previous work and reverted to an academic style, and to his study of the techniques of the old masters. He published his autobiography “Memorie della mia Vita” in 1945.

He remained extremely prolific even as he approached his 90th year. In 1974 he was elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. He died in Rome on November 20, 1978. His brother, Andrea de Chirico, who became famous as Alberto Savinio, was also a writer and a painter.

The painting above “L’ enigma dell’ arrivo e del pomeriggio” (The Enigma of the Arrival and of the Afternoon) painted in 1911-1912 (oil on canvas, 70 x 86.5 cm in a private collection) is a typical de Chirico work where enigmatic figures move in stage-set like backgrounds reminiscent of a classical world. The yellow-green light and the other-worldly atmosphere immediately causes disquiet and the viewer is transported to a dream landscape where reality becomes irrelevant. The painting could be an illustration of a scene from the Odyssey, de Chirico’s background and influences well within this milieu.

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