Giorgio de Chirico:
To become truly immortal a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken it will enter the regions of childhood vision and dream.
What happens when an artist achieves a modest degree of success early in his career only to grow tired of that work which brought him influence and recognition? What happens when that artist decides to move on only to find that no one much cares about the new direction chosen?
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was born in Greece to Italian parents. His parents encouraged his artistic development and from a young age he took a strong interest in Greek mythology, perhaps because his town of Volos was the port the Argonauts were supposed to have set sail from to retrieve the Golden Fleece. He was a sickly youth, and this probably contributed to his melancholic outlook.
In 1917, he had some sort of nervous breakdown and he was sent to an Italian hospital, where he produced Metaphysical paintings, or “Pittura Metafisica”, and an art movement was born. In Rome in 1919, de Chirico had his first gallery solo show.
Soon after his show, he had a revelation while contemplating a Titian painting in Rome. He wrote The Return Of Craftsmanship, an article that advocated a return to traditional methods and iconography, while launching an outspoken campaign against modern surrealist art. When he was young, de Chirico had not taken much interest in technique. Despite training, his early figurative work showed little knowledge of anatomy. He sought to remedy this while in Rome between 1919 and 1924, he worked on his technique and was inspired by the Old Masters.
In 1929, he published a novel, Hebdomeros. Despite his artistic change of direction, the book’s dream-like situations functions mirror his metaphysical paintings. By this time De Chirico had distanced himself from the Surrealists, yet Hebdomeros is considered one of the finest examples of Surrealist literature.
Although de Chirico’s career spanned 70 years, his early metaphysical works are the ones most people find interesting. He was a major influence on the Surrealists, yet De Chirico deserted Surrealism about the time the surrealist first discovered him.
For a time, he didn’t mind being fawned over by the Surrealists, but he later referred to them as “the leaders of modernistic imbecility”. Nevertheless, he was also an inspiration for the French Avant-Garde. These two different group both consider de Chirico an architect of a style as much as a painter.
De Chirico’s influence can be seen in Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni‘s shots of desolate cityscapes. Novelist V.S. Naipaul borrowed the title of one of his paintings, The Enigma Of Arrival for one of his books. The cover art of New Order‘s Thieves Like Us (1983) is from a de Chirico’s painting.
Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, and René Magritte named him as a big influence.
Mysterious Bath was so nice, he painted it twice. Below is the 1938 version.
De Chirico’s work can be seen in major collections including: The Guggenheim, The Tate and Metropolitan Museum of Art.