Giorgio de Chirico - Piazza de italia

On this day in History: death of artist Giorgio de Chirico

Culture News

Founder of the scuola metafisica (metaphysical school), Giorgio de Chirico died on 20th November, 1978 in Rome. The artist had a profound influence on the country’s Surrealist movement in the early 20th century.

De Chirico, was 90 when he passed away and had been active for almost 70 years. However, it is for his early career works that he is best remembered.

During the first decade of his career, between about 1909 and 1919, his works were metaphysical. He sought to use his art to express philosophical musings on the nature of reality. He took familiar scenes, such as town squares, and created images that might appear in a dream; pieces of classical architecture would be juxtaposed with everyday objects in exaggerated form. The scene would be moodily atmospheric, with areas of dark shadow and bright light, and maybe a solitary figure.

During military service in the First World War he met Carlo Carrà, who would become a leading light in the Futurist movement. Together they formed the pittura metafisica (metaphysical painting) movement.

Inspired and inspiration

De Chirico’s work was inspired by the German symbolist painter Max Klinger and the Swiss painter Arnold Bocklin.

Works such as The Enigma of the Hour, The Disquieting Muses, The Song of Love, The Soothsayer’s Recompense and The Melancholy of Departure, greatly inspired the Surrealists of the 1920s.

De Chirico didn’t see himself as a Surrealist, although he had admired Pablo Picasso after meeting him in Paris. He was happy to collaborate with the movement for a while, willingly showing his work at their group exhibitions in the French capital.

Towards the traditional

Knight in Red Cape (1960)

In the 1920s, he moved away from his metaphysical phase and began to embrace the traditional. He looked to the Old Masters of the Renaissance, such as Titian and Raphael, for inspiration.

He became an advocate for the revival of classicism in art and architecture and began to be an outspoken critic of modern art. When his former admirers in the Surrealist movement disparaged his new work, he denounced them as “cretinous and hostile” and distanced himself from them.

Personal Life

Born in 1888 in Volos, Greece to Italian parents, de Chirico studied art at Athens polytechnic before moving to Munich with his mother in 1905.

Returning to Italy, he spent time in Milan and Turin before settling in Florence.  The Piazza Santa Croce inspired the first of his metaphysical town square works, entitled The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1910).

He stayed in Paris for much of 1911 and 1912. It was his time in Paris that particularly influenced the Surrealists. The outbreak of WWI saw de Chirico called up to serve in the Italian army. Stationed in Ferrara, he suffered a nervous breakdown. He met Carrà whilst recuperating in military hospital. He returned to Paris after the war with his first wife, a Russian ballerina named Raissa Gurievich. They then moved to New York and London.

De Chirico divorced Gurievich and married another Russian, Isabella Pakszwer Far. After returning to Italy in the early 1930s they moved to America to escape Fascism. They only settled in Italy after the fall of Mussolini’s regime, acquiring a house near the Spanish Steps. Tjhe building is now a museum dedicated to his work.

De Chirico attracted controversy in his later years. Disappointed with the lukewarm response to his classically-inspired work, he secretly produced a number of paintings in the style of the scuola metafisica and falsely dated them. This action greatly inflated their value.

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