Giorgio De Chirico
Summary of Giorgio De Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico was a pioneer in the revival of Classicism that flourished into a Europe-wide phenomenon in the 1920s. His own interest was likely encouraged by his childhood experiences of being raised in Greece by Italian parents. And, while living in Paris in the 1910s, his homesickness may have led to the mysterious, classically-inspired pictures of empty town squares for which he is best known. It was work in this style that encouraged him to form the short-lived Metaphysical Painting movement, along with the painter Carlo Carrà. His work in this mode attracted considerable notice, particularly in France, where the Surrealists championed him as a precursor. But de Chirico was instinctively more conservative than the Paris avant-garde, and in the 1920s his style began to embrace qualities of Renaissance and Baroque art, a move that soon drew criticism from his old supporters. For many years afterwards, the Surrealists' disapproval of his late work shaped the attitude of critics. The artist's reputation was also not helped by his later habits of creating new versions of his Metaphysical paintings and of backdating his work, as if those pictures had been created back in the 1910s. In recent years, however, his work of that period has attracted more interest, and it was certainly influential on a new generation of Italian painters in the 1980s.
- De Chirico is most famous for the eerie mood and strange artificiality of the cityscapes he painted in the 1910s. Their great achievement lies in the fact that he treats the scenes not as conventional cityscapes - as perspectives on places full of movement and everyday incident - but rather as the kinds of haunted streets we might encounter in dreams. They are backdrops for pregnant symbols or even, at times, for collections of objects that resemble still lifes. De Chirico's innovative approach to these pictures - an approach rather like that of a theatrical set designer - has encouraged critics to describe them as "dream writings." They are, in other words, disordered collections of symbols. And this points to their difference from the so-called "dream images" of later Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí, which appear to want to capture the contents of a dream with a camera.
- Key to de Chirico's work is his love of the classical past. He came to this through his appreciation for German Romanticism, and it was this that revealed to him new ways of looking at the Classics, and ways of treating themes of tragedy, enigma, and melancholy. For de Chirico, the themes and motifs of the Greek and Roman Classics remained valid even in the modern world. However, he recognized that the clash of the past and present produced strange effects - suggesting sorrow, disorientation, nostalgia - and some of the most powerful qualities in his work of the 1910s come from staging this contrast.
- Much of the impact of de Chirico's pictures is derived from the restrained clarity of his style. He achieved this by rejecting the formal innovations of much modern art since Impressionism and by instead opting for a frank, realistic manner that allowed him to depict objects with simplicity. The result was a style that, rather like René Magritte's, is rich in evocative mystery despite the straightforward character of the depiction.
- De Chirico always believed that his early academic training was vital in preparing him for his later work, and this conservative attitude set him apart from other modernists - particularly from the Surrealists who did so much to elevate his reputation. In the 1920s this outlook grew into a renewed belief in the value of craftsmanship and the Old Masters tradition, and it directed a shift in his style towards greater detail, richer color, and more conventionally accurate modeling of forms and volumes, as well as more emphatic references to Renaissance and Baroque art.
Biography of Giorgio De Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico was born in Volos, Greece to Italian parents. His father was an engineer working on the construction of the Greek railway system and his mother was a noblewoman of Genoese origin. His parents encouraged his artistic development, and from a young age he took a strong interest in Greek mythology, perhaps because Volos was the port the Argonauts were supposed to have set sail from to retrieve the Golden Fleece. However, he was troubled by intestinal disorders in his youth, and it has been speculated that this contributed to his melancholic outlook.
Important Art by Giorgio De Chirico
The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon is the first painting in de Chirico's Metaphysical Town Square series, and the first painting in which he settled upon the style and imagery for which he is now famous - quiet, enigmatic, strangely simplified scenes of old towns. It is also the first in a number of canvases that he titled with the word "enigma." We may speculate that the enigma in question is the relationship between the real and the unreal, as this picture was painted after the artist felt a revelation in Florence's Piazza Santa Croce in which the world appeared before him as if for the first time. The painting depicts a portion of that square in a simplified fashion. It has many of the features that would become hallmarks of his work: a desolate piazza bordered by a classical facade, the long shadows and deep colors of the city at dusk, and a stationary figure, here a statue. The sail visible in the distance may have been inspired by de Chirico's memories of visits he made as a youth to the harbor of Piraeus in Greece.
The Child's Brain was a favorite of Surrealism's founder André Breton, who bought the painting reportedly after it caused him to get off his bus when he saw it hanging in a gallery window. One can appreciate its impact on Breton, for almost a decade before the Surrealists had begun to speak about the power of dreams and the unconscious, de Chirico was painting images such as this that spoke about exactly these themes. Breton said that in conversations with de Chirico, the painter revealed that the man depicted in this image was his father. The bookmark inserted into the book on the table symbolizes his parents' lovemaking - the bookmark positioned so as to represent the phallus. On another level, the man in the painting, whether modeled upon de Chirico's father or not, is meant as a portrait of the young, sexually ambivalent and virile Dionysus. Breton and the Surrealists had interpreted de Chirico's work through their readings of psychoanalysis, but Freud was unknown to de Chirico until the 1920s.
Not to be confused with a 1917 painting simply entitled The Melancholy of Departure, the present work, Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure), was dubbed an "architectonic masterpiece" by Robert Hughes. The presence of the architecture is central to its power, yet it is the way de Chirico treats the architecture that is so innovative; it is not intended to represent a particular place, or environment, but instead it is like a theatrical set - an unreal backdrop for unreal events. It is typical of the artist's work of the 1910s in its use of multiple vanishing points, deep colors, and elongated shadows of dusk. The clock tower and departing train possibly foreshadow his imminent departure to join the Italian army in the First World War. Trains are a familiar motif in de Chirico's work, functioning as a symbol of life and youthful expectation.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Giorgio De Chirico
- Giorgio de Chirico: A Metaphysical JourneyBy Gerd Roos, Giorgio de Chirico
- The Art of Enigma: The de Chirico Brothers & the Politics of ModernismOur PickBy Keala Jane Jewell
- The Memoirs Of Giorgio De ChiricoOur PickBy Giorgio de Chirico
- Hebdomeros with Monseiur Dudron's Adventure and Other Metaphysical WritingsBy Giorgio de Chirico, John Ashbery
- Giorgio De Chirico: 1888-1978, the Modern MythBy Magdalena Holzhey
- Great Works: The Uncertainty of the Poet, 1913 (106x94cm) Giorgio de ChiricoBy Michael Glober / The Independent / June 10, 2011
- Enigma in Giorgio de Chirico's artBy Brenda Dionisi / The Florentine Press / May 15, 2008
- De Chirico: Painting landscapes of the mindBy Roderick Conway Morris / The New York Times / February 9, 2007
- An Ambitious Effort to Praise de Chirico's Later WorksOur PickBy Michael Kimmelman / The New York Times / January 4, 1991