Giorgio De Chirico - Biography and Legacy
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.
From 1903 to 1905, de Chirico studied at the Higher School of Fine Arts in Athens. Upon his father's death in 1905, the family visited Florence before moving to Munich the following year. De Chirico enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts there and developed a strong interest in Symbolist artists like German Max Klinger and particularly the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin.
He left Munich before graduating to rejoin his family in Milan in March 1910. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Florence and, via Italian writer Giovanni Papini, began to study German philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Otto Weininger. De Chirico attempted to relate the work of these men to his painting, seeking to transcend the banal appearances of everyday life and uncover the reality that he believed was concealed beneath.
There were historical, mythological and philosophical themes in de Chirico's paintings throughout his career. He began his Metaphysical Town Square series with Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1909) painted in Florence. During this period, which lasted until 1919, there are reoccurring references to memory, loss, mystery, the passing of time, and architecture - particularly arches and towers - in desolate, melancholic squares and cityscapes. They appear to be images of depopulated Mediterranean cities, in a time beyond history - where everyday life is imbued with mythology.
De Chirico and his mother moved to Paris to join his brother in July 1911, passing through Turin along the way. He had been interested in the city as it was the place where Nietzsche had displayed his first signs of madness in 1889. The architecture of the piazzas and archways made a considerable impact on him, and locations in the city can be spotted throughout his paintings from this period.
In May 1915, de Chirico and his brother were enlisted into the Italian army to fight in World War I. Based in Ferrara, de Chirico continued to paint, with the arcades and shop windows of the city appearing in his works. He had begun to use mannequins in pictures he painted in Paris, and these became more frequent in his Ferrara paintings.
In 1917, a nervous condition forced him into an Italian hospital, where he continued to work, producing pictures mainly featuring cluttered interiors in the Metaphysical style. In the hospital he met Carlo Carrà, and through their exchanges Metaphysical art, or pittura metafisica, was born. In early 1919, de Chirico had his first solo show at the Galleria Bragaglia in Rome.
De Chirico's later period of work is usually said to start in 1919 and lasted until his death in 1978. In 1919, soon after his first solo show, he had a revelation while contemplating a Titian painting at Rome's Galleria Borghese. He wrote 'The Return of Craftsmanship,' an article that advocated a return to traditional methods and iconography, while simultaneously launching an outspoken campaign against modern art. Previously de Chirico had not taken much interest in technique. Despite his training, his early figurative work revealed an underdeveloped knowledge of anatomy. He sought to remedy this while in Rome, particularly between 1919 and 1924, where he worked on his technique and was inspired by the Old Masters.
During these years, de Chirico's work was also branching into other mediums. In 1924, he worked on designs for a ballet in Paris based on a short story by the Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello. He made lithographs for a reproduction of Guillaume Apollinaire's book of poems Calligrammes in 1929. In the same year, he wrote his only novel, Hebdomeros. Despite his artistic change of direction, the book's dream-like collection of impressions and situations functions as a literary companion to his metaphysical paintings. By this time De Chirico had distanced himself from the Surrealists, yet Hebdomeros is still considered one of the finest examples of Surrealist literature.
He continued with similar ventures until very late in his life. In the late 1960s, he began creating small bronze sculptures, in which some of the figures were borrowed from his earlier paintings, including the mannequins from his Ferrara period. Throughout the rest of his career he would routinely create and sell copies of paintings from his Metaphysical period, passing them off as originals. The practice was in part an attempt to profit from the popularity of his early work, and in part a means of taking revenge on the critics who heaped praise on it and attacked the styles of his later periods.
The Legacy of Giorgio De Chirico
Although de Chirico's career spanned seventy years, his early metaphysical works are his most significant. He was a major influence on the Surrealists. André Breton claimed that de Chirico was one the main torchbearers of a new modern mythology. For a time he was happy to be courted by the Surrealists, but he later referred to them as "the leaders of modernistic imbecility." Nevertheless, he was also inspirational for later French avant-garde groups such as the Lettrists and Situationists, particularly in relation to their interest in urbanism. These two groups consider de Chirico an architect as much as a painter, seeing in his enigmatic piazzas and towers visions and plans for future cities. Besides the art world proper, de Chirico's influence can be seen on everything from the Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni's shots of desolate cityscapes and urban anomie to the environments and packaging for the videogame Ico for the Playstation 2. And the novelist V.S. Naipaul has borrowed the title of one of his paintings, The Enigma of Arrival (1911-12), for one of his own books.