“Art is the fatal net which catches these strange moments on the wing like mysterious butterflies, fleeing the innocence and distraction of common men.” – Giorgio De Chirico

Life of an Artist: Giorgio de Chirico - Sheet1
Giorgio de Chirico_©Sotheby’s

Overview of the Artist

The father of the Metaphysical Art Movement, Giorgio de Chirico was an Italian artist and a writer born in the port city of Volos, Greece. The artist’s 1917 metaphysical work, Le rêve de Tobie (The Dream of Tobias), contributed immensely to the development of Surrealist aesthetics and theories. He is famous for his uncanny moods and bizarre features in the cityscapes of his paintings. The use of Roman arcades, multiple vanishing points, mannequins, deep colors, and elongated shadows are some of the typical features of his work.

Life of an Artist: Giorgio de Chirico - Sheet2
The Dream of Tobias_©metmuseum

Early Life

Giorgio de Chirico was born on 10th July 1888 in Greece to Italian parents. At the time, his father was working on the construction of a railroad in Greece, and his mother was a noblewoman of Genoese origin. In 1900, he began his study in drawing and painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts. While studying, he worked with the Greek artists Georgios Roilos and Georgios Jakobides, developing a lifelong interest in Greek mythology. After the demise of his father in 1905, his family moved to Munich the following year, where he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts.

During his time in Munich, he studied the works of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger and also read the writings of philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Otto Weininger. The Dying Centaur (1909), one of de Chirico’s early works, shows the influence of Böcklin’s works. 

Artist’s Work

Among De Chirico’s most famous works are his paintings of the metaphysical period. His work displays a notable historical, mythological, and philosophical influence. The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1909), painted in Florence, was the beginning work of his Metaphysical Town Square series. The painting is a simplified scene of a town square of Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, Italy. 

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The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon_©reddit

After graduating from Munich in 1910, he studied German philosophers, including Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer. These philosophers played a crucial role in the development of his art style. De Chirico spent the next decade developing his style of metaphysical painting. His art merged everyday reality with mythology and elicited enigmatic feelings of nostalgia, tension, and estrangement. His early subjects were motionless cityscapes, but he slowly began depicting cluttered rooms inhabited by strange mannequin figures.  

In 1911, on the way to Paris to join his brother Andrea, he stopped in Turin, Italy. The city’s architecture, especially the arches and piazzas, left a lasting impression on him which were seen in many of his works during this period. 

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Turin Spring_©wikiart

He enlisted in the army at the outbreak of World War I in 1915 but was deemed unfit and was sent to Ferrara to work in a hospital. He continued to paint, and at the beginning of 1918, his work was exhibited widely throughout Europe. In 1919, De Chirico wrote an article for the Italian magazine Valori Plastici entitled “The Return of Craftsmanship”. The article promoted his return to traditional painting methods and iconography. In addition, he became a critic of modern art. 

In 1922, De Chirico painted “Self Portrait”, intending to display his growing interest in classical techniques. At left is an image of himself transformed into classical sculpture. The right side shows him in the Mannerist style of the 16th century. De Chirico painted and produced artworks from 1930 for nearly 50 more years until his death. But his paintings never received the same praise as of his Metaphysical era. 

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Self-Potrait_©ThoughtCo

In 1944, he moved to Rome and bought a house near the Spanish Steps. Today, the house is a museum of his art. In 1974, the French Academy des Beaux-Arts appointed him as a member. Even in his 90s, Giorgio De Chirico was a prolific artist. On 20th November 1978, he died in Rome.

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Exterior View of the Giorgio de Chirico House Museum_©wikimedia

Legacy

The significant impact that De Chirico had on art history was his status as a pioneer among the surrealists. Among the surrealists who acknowledged De Chirico’s influence were Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, and René Magritte, who described seeing De Chirico’s The Song of Love for the first time as “one of the most moving experiences of life”. De Chirico’s work “Gare Montparnasse” (The Melancholy of Departure) from 1914 is among his most celebrated works. It is not a depiction of a particular place in reality. For this, he appropriated architectural elements like stage designers do- using multiple vanishing points to create an unsettling effect on the viewer.

Life of an Artist: Giorgio de Chirico - Sheet7
Giorgio de Chirico’s The Song of Love_©MoMA
Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of the Departure)_©MoMA

His style influenced several filmmakers, notably those in the 1950s through the 1970s. The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni also said that he drew inspiration from De Chirico. A similarity between De Chirico’s work and Antonioni’s films from the 1960s is how the camera lingers on desolate cityscapes, populated by a few distant figures or none at all, without the film’s protagonists. 

References:

  1. ThoughtCo. Biography of Giorgio de Chirico, Italian Pioneer of Surrealist Art.[online]. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-of-giorgio-de-chirico-italian-artist-4783632
  2. Wikipedia. Giorgio de Chirico.[online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_de_Chirico#Style
  3. The Art Story. Giorgio de Chirico.[online]. Available at:https://www.theartstory.org/artist/de-chirico-giorgio/
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