Giorgio de Chirico (July 10, 1888 – 20 November 20, 1978), an Italian artist, who in the years before World War I, founded the scuola metafisica art movement, which profoundly influenced the surrealists. After 1919, he became interested in traditional painting techniques, and worked in a neoclassical or neo-Baroque style, while frequently revisiting the metaphysical themes of his earlier work.
De Chirico is best known for the paintings he produced between 1909 and 1919, his metaphysical period, which are characterized by haunted, brooding moods evoked by their images. At the start of this period, his subjects were still cityscapes inspired by the bright daylight of Mediterranean cities, but gradually he turned his attention to studies of cluttered storerooms, sometimes inhabited by mannequin-like hybrid figures.
In autumn, 1919, De Chirico published an article in Valori Plastici entitled “The Return of Craftsmanship”, in which he advocated a return to traditional methods and iconography. This article heralded an abrupt change in his artistic orientation, as he adopted a classicizing manner inspired by such old masters as Raphael and Signorelli, and became an outspoken opponent of modern art.In the paintings of his metaphysical period, De Chirico developed a repertoire of motifs—empty arcades, towers, elongated shadows, mannequins, and trains among others—that he arranged to create “images of forlornness and emptiness” that paradoxically also convey a feeling of “power and freedom”. According to Sanford Schwartz, De Chirico—whose father was a railroad engineer—painted images that suggest “the way you take in buildings and vistas from the perspective of a train window. His towers, walls, and plazas seem to flash by, and you are made to feel the power that comes from seeing things that way: you feel you know them more intimately than the people do who live with them day by day.”
In 1982, Robert Hughes wrote that De Chirico “could condense voluminous feeling through metaphor and association … In The Joy of Return, 1915, de Chirico’s train has once more entered the city … a bright ball of vapor hovers directly above its smokestack. Perhaps it comes from the train and is near us. Or possibly it is a cloud on the horizon, lit by the sun that never penetrates the buildings, in the last electric blue silence of dusk. It contracts the near and the far, enchanting one’s sense of space. Early de Chiricos are full of such effects. Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est? (“What shall I love if not the enigma?”)—this question, inscribed by the young artist on his self-portrait in 1911, is their subtext.”
In this, he resembles his more representational American contemporary, Edward Hopper: their pictures’ low sunlight, their deep and often irrational shadows, their empty walkways and portentous silences creating an enigmatic visual poetry.
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