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Metaphysical Painting

Metaphysical Painting Collage

Started: 1910

Ended: 1920

"What shall I love if not the enigma?"

Giorgio de Chirico Signature

Summary of Metaphysical Painting

In 1910, the Italian Giorgio de Chirico began to spearhead a new style of painting, inspired by those enigmatic moments of our lives when ordinary awareness becomes suspended and we feel as if we've stepped out of time. After meeting artist Carlo Carrà, the two evolved this type of work into a movement coined "Pittura Metafisica" or Metaphysical Painting. They, and a handful of other artists, strove to create compositions in which realistic depictions of contemporary settings were juxtaposed with an unusual iconography of their own unique design, giving viewers a sense of stepping into a dream. The movement was isolated in scope due to historical circumstances while Europe began the difficult recovery from World War I.

Key Ideas

In direct opposition to the progressive avant-garde of the early 20th century, Metaphysical Paintings featured a general mood of isolation and haunting mystery. In these fantastical worlds of the artists' own imaginations, art critic Hearne Pardee wrote, "Dynamic exuberance is replaced by methodical composition, as though fastidious fabrication could generate visions."
Metaphysical Painting was marked by the widely adopted inclusion of common motifs from everyday life such as statues, mannequins, fish, mirrors, and geometrical objects, only positioned within unordinary contexts. This added to the sense of ambiguity that de Chirico championed as giving the viewer a sense of stepping out of reality to see things in new ways absent of preconceived meaning.
In de Chirico's words, the Metaphysical painters were "painting that which could not be seen." This allusion to what lies beneath the conscious level of everyday life would attract the eye of the time's modern thinkers and philosophers such as Andre Breton and become a primary influence upon the emerging Surrealist movement.
Although short lived, the Metaphysical Painting movement was also a forebear to the Interwar Classicism movement, which was an artistic reaction to the emotional fallout of World War I. It called for a return to order via a backlash against contemporary genres and reclamation of classical art's tropes, styles and motifs.
Detail of de Chirico's <i>The Disquieting Muses</i> (1947)

Founder of Metaphysical Painting Giorgio de Chirico is a true giant of avant-garde art. His works foreshadowed Surrealism, and he has even been credited with creating the first ever Conceptual painting, The Enigma of the Hour (1911), that aimed to translate thought into art years before the Patriarch of Conceptualism - Marcel Duchamp.

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