Giorgio de Chirico - Galleria d'arte - Galleria dello scudo

Giorgio de Chirico

    de Chirico, Giorgio (Volos/Greece 1888 – Rome 1978).
    He was born in Volos, the capital of Thessaly; his parents were Evaristo de Chirico, an railway engineer and descendent of a Sicilian family that had moved to Tuscany, and Gemma Cervetto, a Genoese noblewoman.
    In 1899 he began his studies at the polytechnic in Athens and also followed a painting course under the tutelage of the portrait painter Jacobidis, who in turn had studied at the Munich academy.
    In 1900 he painted his first picture, a still-life with lemons.
    After the death of his father and a brief period in Florence, in 1906 the de Chirico family moved to Munich: Alberto Savinio, Giorgio’s younger brother, was fifteen at the time. Giorgio de Chirico began to study at the fine arts academy and also closely studied the work by Böcklin and Klinger, above all, in the museums. At the same time he became interested in philosophy and studied Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Weininger. It was in this period that he painted his first works inspired by Böcklin (Lotta dei centauri, 1909, the National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome).
    He returned to Rome in 1910 and in the following year he and his mother decided to join his brother in Paris where he was involved with concerts of music. But before reaching Paris, they stopped at Turin where de Chirico was deeply impressed by the deserted piazzas of the city and its monumental architecture immersed in the warm summer light. These images were to re-emerge in his paintings from his first Parisian period.
    During the course of 1910 he painted portraits and self-portraits, but it had been during his stay in Florence, in other words before leaving for Paris, that he had developed the works of the metaphysical period: Enigma dell’oracolo and Enigma di un pomeriggio di autunno, exhibited for the first time at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1912. A relevant contribution to his development had been given by the Florentine cultural milieu headed by the writer Giovanni Papini, a promoter of philosophical thought and poetics inspired by an irrational vitalism full of pathos. In 1913 he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents and became close to the artists of the Cubist avant-garde. He was closely followed by the critic Apollinaire, and it was due to him that he signed a contract with the young dealer Paul Giullaume (a collector of Picasso, the artists from the École de Paris, and the Impressionists); it was thanks to his international contacts that the name of the de Chirico brothers became known in America as early as 1914. With the outbreak of war both went back to Italy and enlisted.
    In Ferrara he met Filippo De Pisis and then Carlo Carrà who, with his recuperation of a neo-primitivism figuration after having abandoned his Futurist painting in 1916, was receptive to de Chirico’s influence. This was the beginning of what was to become known as “Metaphysical painting”, a phrase that indicated an approach that, by going beyond the boundaries of objective reality - something already known and, therefore, more conventional – revealed unusual and deeper aspects of things. In the meantime, de Chirico had made contacts with Tzara, the founder of the Dada movement in Zurich. Having returned to Rome in 1918, even though beset with serious economic problems, he began to take part in the art life of the capital by collaborating with the Valori Plastici group which, besides giving its name to a magazine that published European avant-garde works, also published art monographs, the first of which was devoted to de Chirico himself. In Rome in 1918, he took part with, among others, Carrà, Ferrazzi, and Prampolini, in the Mostra d’Arte Independente pro Croce Rossa, an exhibition that aimed at building bridges between Futurism and the newer movements. In 1919 he exhibited at Anton Giulio Bragaglia’s Casa d’Arte in Rome; for this occasion he flanked his work with his fundamental essay Noi Metafisici. The show was a flop; only a few pictures were sold, and in “Il Tempo” the critic Roberto Longhi slated the show in a sarcastic article titled Il dio ortopedico, The Orthopaedic God.
    He became friends with Mario Brogli and collaborated with the Valori Plastici group, taking part in shows of the same name in Germany (Berlin and Hamburg, 1921, with twenty-six paintings); these led to the establishment in Europe of Magic Realism. He then took part in the Fiorentina Primaverile in 1922 in Florence. In the meantime, already in 1919 there can be felt in de Chirico’s language a return to antique painting, something that went hand in hand with his rethinking about painting technique. He continued to live in Rome and Florence, the guest of the critic and collector Giorgio Castelfranco, and in 1923 he exhibited at the second Rome Biennale an Autoritratto con busto di Mercurio, together with some “Roman villas” which showed further inspiration by Böcklin; these works were favourably welcomed by the critics. In the same year the “La Bilancia” magazine published his essay Pro tecnica aratio, and at the same time he became increasingly interested in the painting of Pompeii. In 1924, after having married the Russian ballerina Raissa Gurievich Krol, he exhibited for the first time at the Venice Biennale, and that autumn in Paris he designed the scenes and costumes for the ballet La giara, inspired by Pirandello. He became friends with the Surrealists and collaborated with Breton’s magazine “La Revolution Surréaliste”.
    In the following year he moved to Paris where he was to remain until 1931. He took part in the third Rome Biennale and his works were included in the first Surrealist show at the Galerie Pierre, while a solo show of recent works was organised at the Galerie Rosenberg in Paris. But already at the end of 1925 there was sharpened his polemic with the Surrealists who bitterly criticised his recent work, the work that followed his Metaphysical period and that was considered to be anti-modernist. In this period there appeared some themes that were to be widely developed in the following years: archaeology, manikins, horses by the seashore, furniture in a valley, landscapes in a room, and gladiators. He took part in the shows of the Novecento Italiano in Milan (1928) and, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, he held numerous solo shows in Italy and abroad. In the meantime, critics had begun to become interested in his new output and American and European museums began to buy his works. In 1928 there were published the monograph by George, and the “indirect study essay” about de Chirico by Jean Cocteau, Le Mystère Laïc. In 1929 de Chirico published his autobiographical “novel” Hebdomeros and, even though he had made various polemical statements about modern Italian art, he exhibited in almost all the shows of the “Group des Italiens de Paris” (with Tozzi, Campigli, Paresce, Severini, Savinio, De Pisis). In the same year the Parisian publishing house Gallimard published Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, with sixty-six lithographs by de Chirico. For Diaghilev’s Russian ballet company he designed, in 1930, the sets and costumes for the ballet Le Bal. During the last year of his time in Paris he met Isabella Far, a Russian who was to become his second wife. With a technique and manner derived from Renoir, he made a series of paintings that he was to show at his solo exhibition at the Galleria Milano in Milan; they were of nudes and still-lifes and marked a separation from his previous output (his realist phase). In 1932, the year he returned to Italy and the beginning of a prolific period as a set designer, he took part in the Venice Biennale and the fifth Milan Triennale; in 1933 he participated in the Sindacale exhibition in Florence. In 1935 the Rome Quadriennale organised an important solo show in which he exhibited more distinctly “realist” works. In 1936 he went to New York, where he was to remain until 1938, and some American cities organised solo shows of his work. In 1936 his participation in the first International Surrealist Exhibition in London and the show Fantastic Art. Dada. Surrealism held in the New York Museum of Modern Art were of great significance. Having returned to Italy in 1938, he settled in Milan and, in the following year, exhibited at the third Rome Quadriennale. From the end of the 1930s he began to work on some terracotta sculptures which repeated some of the favourite themes of his paintings (for example, the archaeological works); from them he made bronze casts. With the beginning of the next decade de Chirico began his baroque period with self-portraits in costume, and with a return to the great masters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, works that were not widely appreciated by the critics.
    In 1944 he moved definitively to Rome, and in 1946 there began the controversy about the authenticity of his paintings from the Metaphysical period. Among the main group shows he took part in, mention should be made of the Venice Biennale (1942, 1948, 1956, 1972), the Rome Quadriennale (1943, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1965, 1972), and Documenta I in Kassel (1955). In 1949, 1952, and 1954 he organised, respectively in London and Venice, solo exhibitions in protest against the acceptance only of his Metaphysical period by a section of critics, and also against the criterion for selecting mostly abstract works for the Venice Biennale.
    Following 1970, when a vast retrospective show of his work had been organised in Milan, various shows by de Chirico were held in Italy; he was also awarded important honours, above all abroad.

    Ines Millesimi in La pittura in Italia. Il Novecento (1900-1945), Milan, 1997.