Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Born: July 10, 1888; Volos, Greece
Died: November 20, 1978; Rome
Giorgio de Chirico was an influential pre-Surrealist and then Surrealist Greek-Italian painter born in Volos, Greece, to a Genovese mother and a Sicilian father. He founded the scuola metafisica art movement.
After studying art in Athens and Florence, de Chirico moved to Germany in 1906 and entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he read the writings of the philosophers Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, and studied the works of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger.
He returned to Italy in the summer of 1909 and spent six months in Milan. At the beginning of 1910, he moved to Florence where he painted the first of his “Metaphysical Town Square” series: The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon after the revelation he felt in Piazza Santa Croce. He also painted The Enigma of the Oraclewhile in Florence. In July 1911, he spent a few days in Turin on his way to Paris. De Chirico was profoundly moved by what he called the “metaphysical aspect” of Turin: the architecture of its archways and piazzas. It was the city of Nietzsche. De Chirico moved to Paris in July 1911, where he joined his brother Andrea. Through his brother, he met Pierre Laprade, a member of the jury at the Salon d’Automne, where he exhibited three of his works Enigma of the Oracle, Enigma of an Afternoon and Self-Portrait. During 1913, he exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Automne, his work was noticed byPablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. De Chirico won praise for his work almost immediately from writer Guillaume Apollinaire, who helped to introduce his work to the later Surrealists. It was at this time that he sold his first painting, The Red Tower. In 1914, through Guillaume Apollinaire, he met the art dealer Paul Guillaume, with whom he signed a contract for his artistic output.
At the outbreak of World War I, he decided to return to Italy, arriving in May 1915 when he enlisted in the Italian army. He was considered unfit for work and assigned to the hospital at Ferrara. He continued to paint, and in 1918, he transferred to Rome. From 1918, his work was exhibited extensively in Europe.
De Chirico is best known for the paintings he produced between 1909 and 1919, his metaphysical period, which are memorable for the haunted, brooding moods evoked by their images. At the start of this period, his subjects were still cityscapes inspired by the bright daylight of Mediterranean cities, but gradually he turned his attention to studies of cluttered storerooms, sometimes inhabited by mannequin-like hybrid figures.
In autumn 1919, de Chirico published an article in Valori Plastici entitled “The Return of Craftsmanship”, in which he advocated a return to traditional methods and iconography. This article heralded an abrupt change in his artistic orientation, as he adopted a classicizing manner inspired by such old masters as Raphael and Signorelli, and became an outspoken opponent of modern art.
De Chirico met and married his first wife, the Russian Ballerina Raissa Gurievich in 1924, and together they moved to Paris. In 1928, he held his first exhibition in New York City and shortly afterwards, London. He wrote essays on art and other subjects, and in 1929 published a novel entitled Hebdomeros, the Metaphysician.
In 1930, de Chirico met his second wife, Isabella Pakszwer Far, a Russian, with whom he would remain for the rest of his life. Together they moved to Italy in 1932, finally settling in Rome in 1944.
In 1939, he adopted a neo-Baroque style influenced by Rubens. De Chirico’s later paintings never received the same critical praise as did those from his metaphysical period. He resented this, as he thought his later work was better and more mature. He produced backdated “self-forgeries” both to profit from his earlier success, and as an act of revenge—retribution for the critical preference for his early work. He also denounced authentic paintings from his early period, and even his own later self-forgeries, as (anonymous) forgeries.
He remained extremely prolific even as he approached his 90th year. In 1974, he was elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. He died in Rome on November 20, 1978.