Giorgio de Chirico.
The painter was born of Italian parents in Volos, Greece, on July 10th 1888, and he died on November 20th 1978 in
Rome, after unifying in a single period, referred to as “metaphysical”,
all the themes and styles of the last ten years of his activity.
Origins and formation
His father, Evaristo de Chirico, was an engineer and was commissioned
to design the railway construction in Tessaglia. The frequent movement
of the family between Volos and Athens gave origin to the journey theme
and the contrasts evoked between ancient and modern Greece inspired the
subsequent work of de Chirico. Giorgio and his brother Andrea, who in
1912 started to use the assumed name of Alberto Savinio, received a good
education, based on ancient history, languages and Greek mythology. When
his father died in 1905, the education of the brothers was guided by
their ambitious mother, Gemma Cervetto. From 1903 to 1905 de Chirico
studied painting at the Athens Polytechnic with Gerge Jacobides, of
German culture. He completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in
Florence from 1905 – 06 and at the Akademie der Bildenen Kunste in
Munich from 1906 to 1910, where he was strongly influenced by the German
symbolist artists Max Kilnger, Hans Thoma and especially by Arnold Bocklin.
In 1910 he went to live in Paris where he made the acquaintance of Guillaume Apollinaire, M. Jacob and Pablo Picasso and became interested in
metaphysical painting, where all his repertory of enigmatic objects and
visions from mannequins to the Squares of Italy are collected in an
impossible space, because they are without prospective and infinite. The
forms are often assimilated to geometric volumes which hint of the
cubist influence and are set out as mysterious symbols.
Italy and Paris
In February 1910 Savinio left for Paris, whilst de Chirico returned to
Italy, first living in Milan, then in Florence. During a long illness he
studied the writings of Arthur Schopenauer and Friedrich Nietzsche and
created his first autonomous paintings free of the Bocklin influence. In
July 1911, together with his mother, he joined Savinio in Paris,
stopping on the way in Turin, the town in which the madness of Nietzsche
began. At the 1912 Salon d’Automne, for the first time ,de Chirico
exhibited his melancholy pictures of town squares populated by solitary
monuments and enclosed by blind arcades.
He broke away from the traditional prospective and modelled illusionistic style, creating disconcerting spaces and strange
collocations of objects, evoking disquieting and metaphysical realities.
Toward the end of 1914 he introduced the iconography of the mannequin,
influenced by the poetry and theatre of Savinio and Guillaume Apollinaire.
In 1915, when Italy entered the war, the brothers were both sent to
Ferrara where they became acquainted with the poets Corrado Govoni and
Filippo de Pisis, and in 1917 with the artist Carrà. During a period of
hospitalisation at the Villa del Seminario military hospital, Carrà was
profoundly influenced by de Chirico and together they contributed to the
development of metaphysical painting. De Chirico painted a series of
claustrophobic interiors filled with extravagant objects - biscuits,
maps and frames, while the mannequins were given a new monumentality and
placed on the background of scenes of Ferrara, as in the “Great
metaphysics” (Grande metafisico) of 1917.
First personal exhibition
At the end of the war he formulated his theory of metaphysical painting
and the return of classicism in many writings, distancing himself from Carrà. Many of his writings were published in the magazine “Valori Plastici” edited by Mario Broglio from 1918-1922; this Roman magazine
was also spokesman of the programme for a new Italian classicism. The
first personal exhibition organised at the Bragaglia Gallery in 1919
inspired the sarcastic article of Roberto Longhi “Al dio ortopedico” (to
the orthopaedic god).
In the next five years de Chirico returned to mythological themes under
the influence of Brocklin and the Renaissance Masters. The technical
virtuosity, which he had already demonstrated during the Ferrara period,
reached its height in the self-portraits and the article “Il ritorno al
mestiere” (The return to the craft) published by “Valori Plastici” in
1919. In 1924 the artist returned to Paris, attracted by the admiration
for his works expressed by André Breton and the surrealistic artists;
however, very soon differences of opinions arose between his artistic
intentions and their Freudian interpretation of his works.
The favour that the “first” de Chirico was shown by Breton, with the
exclusion of the subsequent paintings, had considerable influence on his
critical assessments. However, it was his second Parisian period that
gave definite affirmation to the name of de Chirico. In the middle
‘twenties he married the Russian actress Raisa Gurevich Kroll, who later
studied archaeology at the Sorbona with Charles Picard. During the
’twenties de Chirico reconsidered the theme of the mannequin, now
composed of whimsical architectural elements and enwrapped in evocative
brush strokes. He developed new cycles of “horses on the beach” (Cavalli
sulla spiagga) and “gladiators” (gladiatori) fighting figures in closed
environments. This latter series culminated in the “Room of the
gladiators” (Sala dei gladiatori) for the house of Léonce Rosenberg
painted between 1928 and 1929.
A complete artist
In 1929 he published his novel “Hebdomeros”, a masterpiece of
surrealist literature. In 1931 he met Isabella Pakszwer Far who became
his second wife. In the ‘thirties de Chirico divided his time between
Paris and Italy; in 1933 he painted the museum dedicated to “Italian
Culture”, which was unfortunately destroyed. For the Milan Triennial
Exhibition he designed scenery and costumes for the theatre, for example
those for Bellini’s opera, “The Puritans” at the first Florentine
“Maggio musicale”. In 1934 he completed a series of lithographs for
Mythologie by Jean Cocteau, which gave origin to the series of
“mysterious baths” (bagni misteriosi). After a visit to the United
States, lasting from 1935 to 1937, in 1944 he established himself in
Rome. He also carried out activities as stage designer, signing among
others, the drafts for “La Giara” in 1924 and for “La figlia di Jorio”
Conservative de Chirico
From the end of the ‘thirties, his works seemed to reflect a more
conservative taste: he started to repeat many of his renowned
metaphysical subjects. In the next two decades he continues his research
on pictorial techniques, mixing bright emulsions of his own creation
that facilitated the rich brushwork of the “Baroque” still life works
and the self-portraits in costume. During this same period he caused
controversies by producing copies and variations of his first
masterpieces, emphasising by this the supremacy of the idea in relation
to its various realisations. The situation was further complicated by
the fact that he post-dated some works and by the presence of real
forgeries in some retrospective exhibitions held after the war.
The fame of de Chirico arises from a series of about 120 paintings that
he produced in less than 10 years between 1911 and 1919. His subsequent
works, however interesting they may be, have the mark of “after”.
“The disquieting Muses” (Le muse inquietanti) belonging to the Mattioli
collection in Milan;
"The Troubadour" (Il Trovatore) in the Gallery of Modern Art in Venice,
“Mysterious baths” (Bagni misteriosi) dated 1934-35.