Great European: Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico (* 10 July 1888 in Volos, Greece; † 20 November 1978 in Rome) was an Italian painter and graphic designer. He is regarded as one of the main representatives of “pintura metafisica” the school of metaphysical painting, and a pioneer of surrealism.

ChiricoA natural European, De Chirico who was born in Greece to Italian parents and studied art in Germany.  During his time as student at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Chirico came in contact with the works of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger. Around the same time he discovered Nietzsche, Schoppenhauer, and Weininger, who influenced his view of the world as well as his artistic vocabulary. Increasingly, his art began to mirror the dissolution of the old order he experienced in the world around him.

In 1916/17, with World War I just about to reach its climax, de Chirico, together with his brother Alberto Savinio and the Italian futurist Carlo Carrà, founded the “scuola metafisica” and with it a school that would profoundly influence surrealism. The new and innovative take on painting combined realism with the fantastic and merged realist description with intangible fantasies. In De Chirico’s “metaphysical” paintings, artistic fantasy becomes part of the painting’s structure with different components and themes coexisting with barely any interrelation. The associative character of the new style created dreamlike scenarios dominated by a metaphysic, almost magical atmosphere.

De Chirico’s work was highly influential. Max Ernst, Magritte and Tanguy are said to have been electrified when they first saw a De Chirico painting. Clearly his way to depict the world as an accumulation of references out of context, found way into their pictorial language.

The paintings he produced between 1909 and 1919, during his metaphysical period, are considered his most famous and from 1918 his pictures could be found in many exhibitions across the continent.

In 1924 De Chirico visited Paris and was accepted into the Surrealist group that had formed there and which admired De Chirico’s groundbreaking stylistic innovations. At that point, however, the painter himself had already distanced himself from his earlier works. In a 1919 essay entitled “The Return of Craftsmanship” he denounced the pintura metaphysica and argued for a return to the iconography of masters such as Raphael. Now a fervent critic of modern art, he quickly fell out with his French colleagues and concentrated on what he perceived to be a more mature form of artistic expression.

De Chirico’s later work failed to generate the same level of success as his “metaphysical” paintings and the artist quarreled with his surrealist legacy for the rest of his life. While younger painters like Dalí and Max Ernst took up the mantle of surrealism, De Chirico struggled to find success in other art forms.

Ironically, with his metaphysical art still in high regard, he later sometimes returned to his old style, virtually producing forgeries of his younger self, backdating them to profit from his earlier success. Doing so, he stands as an interesting example of the notion that no artist can ever truly own his creation.

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