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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico Self-portrait, 1967

What happens when an artist achieves a modest degree of success early in his career only to grow tired of that work which brought him influence and recognition? What happens when that artist decides to move on only to find that no one much cares about the new direction chosen? If your name is Pablo Picasso, you go on to achieve a lifetime of fame, wealth, and success. If your name is Giorgio de Chirico...not so much. The two men had much in common. They were contemporaries, Picasso being born in 1881, de Chirico in 1888. De Chirico was Italian (born in Greece) and Picasso could almost be considered French, (born in Spain). De Chirico first came to Paris in 1911 where he met Picasso, though he seems not have been influenced by him. De Chirico also met in Paris several other important art figures including the writer, Guillaume Apollinaire, and art dealer, Paul Guillaume, who helped him sell his first painting, The Red Tower (below, left) in 1913. The art dealer, who also represented Picasso as well as Matisse, Modigliani, Brancusi and a number of other avant-garde artists of the time, as was his habit, signed de Chirico to an exclusive contract providing the artist a monthly stipend in return for his output.
The Red Tower, 1913,
Giorgio de Chirico
De Chirico's climb up the ladder of success might have been a given, except for one "minor" detail--World War I. The war sent the artist scurrying back to Italy where he tried to enlist only to be rejected and relegated to work in a hospital in Ferrara. There he continued to paint and after the war moved to Rome. Despite the intrusion of the nasty little conflict, de Chirico's paintings from this era (known as his Metaphysical Period) continued to sell and be displayed all over Europe. In Paris, around 1920, they came to the attention of Andre Breton, poet, writer, and founder of the Surrealist movement. Thereafter, de Chirico's work had a profound effect on the movement's artists, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, and others. The only problem came when de Chirico moved to Paris. Initially he was accepted into Breton's group, but as he began displaying his recent work, and to publish his philosophical return to the classical painting styles of Italian artists such as Raphael and Signorelli, the Surrealist turned on him. They hated his new stuff, and before long, the artist himself.
The Poet's Farewell, 1923,
Giorgio de Chirico

Actually, De Chirico had deserted Surrealism about the time the surrealist first discovered him. His work from 1919 on lacked the "cutting edge" qualities which had appealed to the rebel surrealists. The Poet's Farewell (right) from 1923 shows just how far de Chirico had moved from the austere Italian plazas the surrealists had come to know and love. His work through the 1920s and 30s came to be referred to a Neo-baroque though at times surreal or metaphysical elements crept in. However, for the remainder of his career de Chirico refused to be type-cast. He painted nudes, still-lifes, landscapes (Venice in particular), portraits, religious scenes, mythology, allegory, even genre and animals. His work often takes on the look of the life-long surrealist, Salvador Dali, to the point it's difficult to tell who was influencing (imitating?) whom. The difference is, Dali found his surrealist niche and cuddled into it. De Chirico refused such constraints.

Bathers on the Beach, 1934, Giorgio de Chirico--genre, classical nudes, or subtle Surrealism?

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