Art Movement involves a unique technique or style that showcases a group of artists that share strict adherence to principles, objectives, philosophy or a period to be understood within a specific framework. This art movement can start from a few months to years and decades. The Metaphysical Painting spanned a decade between 1910 and 1920 coming to a halt at the point it was gaining momentum in Europe and inspiring or birthing other movements.

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Lost in Town_©

Prominent quotes by the significant personalities of this movement;

“The appearance of a metaphysical work of art is serene; it gives the impression, however, that something new must happen amidst this same serenity, and that other signs apart from those already apparent are about to enter the rectangle of the canvas” Giorgio de Chirico.

“The creative spirit gropes somewhat like a sleepwalker in the fields of the absolute, but our trained sensibility comes into play when we are confronted with an art that is susceptible to multiple interpretations” Carlo Carrà.

1910 was a year where Italian Giorgio de Chirico began a new style of painting, supported by the unexplainable moments of human living where the ordinary is cut off and time feels unending. Aided by the meeting with Carlo Carrà in 1917, evolved a movement they named “Pittura Metafisica” or Metaphysical Painting.

The prominent ideas of metaphysical painting include the scenery of isolation or desertion and haunted mystery using realistic settings juxtaposed to give the feeling of stepping into a dream. The inclusion of common motifs like mirrors, statues, mannequins, and geometrical objects, is only placed within a dreamy state. This makes the viewer perceive things in newer dimensions that break stereotypes in reality. Another key idea was to inspire observation of things that exist. Still, it couldn’t be seen, a look beneath the conscious everyday life, and this inspired thinkers, philosophers like Andre Breton, and surrealist movements.

The development of this movement began with the following individuals, Giorgio de Chirico, and Carlo Carrà expanding to include Mario Sironi, Giorgio Morandi, and Filippo de Pisis

The works of Metaphysical Painting have an array of works from the decade of the movement.

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The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon_ ©

1910 – The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon by Artist Giorgio de Chirico. This painting depicts a radical interpretation of its original location, Florence’s Piazza Santa Croce. Everything about the scenery has been stripped off from the 19th-century statue to the church’s elaborate façade, creating a space that never existed- a haunted mystery. Art historian Adriano Altamira’s words about the art depict “a theatre or architecture of the mind” this launched de Chirico’s first metaphysical works and a series of Italian piazzas which he called “memories of Italy”. It’s an oil on canvas painting seen in the Peggy Guggenheim collection.

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The Song of Love_ ©

1914 – The Song of Love by Artist Giorgio de Chirico. This painting brings together different elements from the red rubber surgical glove pinned, the green ball, sculpted head of Apollo, enclosed within a classical architectural scene. It gives a glimpse of something beneath the surface, a call to observe closely. It’s an oil on canvas painting seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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L’Ovale della Apparizioni_ ©

1918 – L’Ovale della Apparizioni (The Oval of Apparition) by Artist Carlo Carrà. This painting depicts two mannequins and a fish lying motionless on a wooden floor, with the backdrop of apartment architecture dominating the skyline. This painting has geometric shapes, and secrecy with faceless faces featuring white and gray. It’s oil on canvas exhibited by Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome. He was already famous as he co-founded and was a founding member of Italian Futurism but began searching for a different artistic view and met with de Chirico in 1917.

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Metaphysical Still Life with Triangle by Artist Giorgio Morandi_ ©

1919 – Metaphysical Still Life with Triangle by Artist Giorgio Morandi. This still life depicts a wooden box on its top a ball and rod and leaning on it a curved wood, its backdrop shows a curvilinear form while on a rectangular plane. His ideas using the metaphysical idea were to create compositional order with earthly colors, defined shadows, and lights, and dreamy arrangement of frames like cut-out boxes and shapes. His use of still life and geometric shapes expanded the movement’s reach into the 1920s. He pivoted from Metaphysical Painting toward Classical realism. It’s an oil on canvas exhibited by Brera Pinacoteca, Milan.

Metaphysical art on tumblr_ ©

The concept and style of the metaphysical painting involved three outlooks.

The first concept: iconography uses familiar objects: statues, mannequins, mirrors, fish, and architectural structures and features juxtaposing them to create mystery and depth. These have been widely used by metaphysical painters.

The second concept: still-life as seen in image 5 creates unusual juxtapositions – making a painting within a painting through an aesthetic composition.

The third style: landscape using piazzas and architecture to depict the urban environment giving an air of modernization evoked by a classical past using trains, high-rise buildings, arches, or factory smoke.

The volatility of art movements can be unavoidable. The Metaphysical painting movement ended in 1920 due to a disagreement as regards who founded the group de Chirico or Carrà. After 1919, there was a decline in the delivery of de Chirico images, as they lacked the enigmatic prowess of earlier works, later on, he gradually moved to a more eccentric classicism. The Metaphysical painting inspired Italian architecture evoking the observatory environment in Varese, Brescia, and Rome. It inspired movements like Lettrism, Situationism, and Pop Art. Metaphysical images have been used in album covers and modern video games.

  1. [Accessed July 22, 2022]
  2. [Accessed July 22, 2022]
  3. Emma BALL 27 APRIL, 2019 The Rise and Fall of Artistic Movements [Accessed July 22, 2022]
  4. [Accessed July 22, 2022]
  5. [Accessed July 22, 2022]

Victory Udoh-King is an Architecture creative by profession. She is interested in the built environment, and also in the becoming of an architect best suited for the challenges arising from an evolving world. She loves contemporary jazz and architecture shows.