Portrait of the artist's mother 1911

Giorgio de Chirico and the fantastic philosophy of metaphysical painting

Portrait of Andrea, the Artist's Brother 1910
Portrait of Andrea, the Artist’s Brother 1910

Giorgio de Chirico (July 10, 1888 – November 20, 1978) – famous Italian artist, talented graphic artist and “father” of metaphysical painting. Giorgio de Chirico created paintings inspired by ancient sculptures, geometric shapes and German philosophy. His expressive work influenced the emergence and development of the most non-standard trend in the visual arts – surrealism, and the master’s biography, full of interesting events, still attracts the attention of art critics and art lovers.

Portrait of the artist's mother 1911
Portrait of the artist’s mother 1911

Biography of Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico was born on July 10, 1888 in the city of Volos into an Italian family with a high social status. His father was a descendant of a noble Sicilian family, worked in Greece as an engineer and supervised the construction of a railway. A decent financial position allowed the boy, who from childhood gravitated towards art, to receive a good primary education at the Athens Higher Art School. However, her studies had to be interrupted – after the early death of the head of the family, the mother decided to return to her homeland, to Italy.

Hector and Andromache 1912
Hector and Andromache 1912

Giorgio de Chirico, nevertheless, continued to study painting. He went to Munich and entered the Academy of Arts, where he became interested in the music of Wagner (Wilhelm Richard Wagner), the philosophy of Nietzsche (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche) and Schopenhauer (Arthur Schopenhauer), as well as the bold ideas of his teachers, symbolist artists Arnold Böcklin (Arnold Böcklin) and Max Klinger. Under the influence of new information, which literally flooded the young man, a special worldview began to form in him.

Island and flower garland
Island and flower garland

After graduating from the academy

After graduating from the academy, de Chirico settled in Florence, where he studied the works of old masters and created amazing cityscapes. In his head, the concept of innovative painting arises, in which elements of fantasy, ancient culture and modern reality are harmoniously combined. On canvases filled with bright light, there are deserted streets, columns and statues, and only occasionally miniature figures of passers-by flicker in the plot. One of the works of that period, vividly characterizing the state of throwing, searching and testing – “Piazza de Italy”.

Riddle of Arrival and Day 1912
Riddle of Arrival and Day 1912

The first solo exhibition of de Chirico

After Florence, Giorgio de Chirico went to Paris, where he met the watercolorist and post-impressionist Pierre Laprade, who was on the jury of the Salon d’Automne. A truly lucky break, because thanks to this acquaintance, the novice artist managed to exhibit several of his works in the Salon, and they immediately attracted the attention of the public. They became interested in Picasso himself (Pablo Picasso), and then art dealer Paul Guillaume. The first solo exhibition of de Chirico, organized by the Parisian poet Apollinaire (Guillaume Apollinaire), took place in 1913.

Red Tower 1913, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Red Tower 1913, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Paris turned out to be supportive of the innovative artist – critics praise Giorgio de Chirico’s style of execution, colleagues in the workshop are interested in his ideas, and the modernist audience enthusiastically speaks about the subjects of the paintings.

With the light hand of Apollinaire, who writes laudatory articles about the work of de Chirico, the new direction was called “metaphysical painting”.

Amazon 1913
Amazon 1913
And the main elements of metaphysics are:
  • scale games;
  • distortion of forms;
  • a combination of incomparable shapes and objects;
    broken perspective.

Later, one more technique will be added to the above – mannequins, which will finally replace the images of living people in the plots.

Giorgio de Chirico. Italian beauty
Italian beauty

Meanwhile, the war made its own adjustments to the artist’s plans, and he again ended up in Italy. In search of new forms, Giorgio de Chirico came to architecture, considering its lines the most consonant with metaphysics. The paintings show squares, columns, towers, streets. There are no people among the main characters, but there are faceless mannequins, sometimes with holes instead of eye sockets, with prostheses instead of legs and arms.

Giorgio de Chirico. The Uncertainty of a Poet 1913 Private collection, London
The Uncertainty of a Poet 1913 Private collection, London
painter was extremely popular

In 1918-1920, the painter was extremely popular, moreover, he had followers. The principles of metaphysics, namely the combination of fantasy and reality, infected young artists who, over time, formed another direction – surrealism, among them Dalí (Salvador Dalí) and Magritte (René Magritte).

And the founder of metaphysics himself suddenly turned in the opposite direction. At the end of the war, the painter, having visited the largest European museums, rethought his work and began to create paintings in a classical manner, close to Raphael (Raffaello Santi), Rubens (Pieter Rubens), Courbet (Gustave Courbet).

Giorgio de Chirico. The Uncertainty of a Poet 1913 Private collection, London
The Uncertainty of a Poet 1913 Private collection, London
He paints still lifes, landscapes, self-portraits, mythological subjects and even nudes.

The changes were not approved by fellow surrealists, criticism was not accepted, the viewer did not understand, but the artist did not care. For the next decades, he creates what he considers important – illustrates books, designs the scenery for Diaghilev’s ballet “Ball” and “The Stories of a Soldier” by Stravinsky, writes in the style of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Velázquez (Diego Velázquez).

Giorgio de Chirico. Transformed Dream 1913
Transformed Dream 1913

Giorgio de Chirico returned to metaphysics, but this was already the usual self-citation. He took old paintings as a basis and added various details to them, which, in his opinion, should have filled the plot with new meaning. As an example, the canvas “Prodigal Son”, painted in 1922, and then rethought and revised in 1965. The artist has lived a long life full of creative events. He was married twice and both times chose Russian emigrants as spouses. I read a lot, often gave interviews, constantly wrote something, and died on November 20, 1978.

Giorgio de Chirico. Portrait of senora Gartzen 1913
Portrait of senora Gartzen 1913
The most famous paintings by Giorgio de Chirico

The rich heritage of the painter includes works written in different artistic styles – classicism, neoclassicism, realism, academism, but metaphysical painting remained the brightest and most extraordinary.

Let’s take another look at the most famous paintings by Giorgio de Chirico.

  1. The Riddle of the Oracle (1910) is the beginning of the master’s metaphysical quest. The painting contains all the main elements – memories of childhood, ancient culture, the landscape of a modern city.
  2. “Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire” (1914) – a work that was called prophetic. In the foreground, the author depicted a bust of the poet Apollinaire wearing sunglasses, in the background – a shadow from the profile, made in the form of a target. Surprisingly, he circled the part of the head that would get hit by a shell splinter in a few years.
  3. “Restless Muses” (1918) – the work was written in the traditional manner for the master – urban architecture, statues and mannequins that finally replaced people.
  4. The Great Machine (1925) is a late metaphysical work close to surrealism. There are no understandable symbols and simple forms, on the contrary, we see a chaotic jumble of elements.
Giorgio de Chirico. The Child’s Brain 1917
The Child’s Brain 1917
Giorgio de Chirico. Conquest of the philosopher 1914
Conquest of the philosopher 1914
Giorgio de Chirico. Fortuneteller 1916
Fortuneteller 1916