Giorgio de Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico’s enigmatic works of 1911 to 1917 provided a crucial inspiration for the Surrealist painters. The dreamlike atmosphere of his compositions results from irrational perspective, the lack of a unified light source, the elongation of shadows, and a hallucinatory focus on objects. Italian piazzas bounded by arcades or classical façades are transformed into ominously silent and vacant settings for invisible dramas. The absence of event provokes a nostalgic or melancholy mood as if one senses the wake of a momentous incident; if one feels the imminence of an act, a feeling of anxiety ensues.
De Chirico remarked that “every object has two appearances: one, the current one, which we nearly always see and which is seen by people in general; the other, a spectral or metaphysical appearance beheld only by some individuals in moments of clairvoyance and metaphysical abstraction, as in the case of certain bodies concealed by substances impenetrable by sunlight yet discernible, for instance, by x-ray or other powerful artificial means.”¹ Traces of concealed human presences appear in the fraught expanse of this work. One is the partly concealed equestrian monument often identified as Carlo Marochetti’s 1861 statue of King Carlo Alberto in Turin,² which also appears in the background of de Chirico’s The Departure of the Poet of 1914. In addition, in the left foreground, overpainting barely conceals two figures (or statues), one of which resembles a shrouded mythological hero by the 19th-century Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin. The true protagonist, however, is the crenellated tower; in its imposing centrality and rotundity it conveys a virile energy that fills the pictorial space.
1. Quoted in William Rubin, “De Chirico and Modernism,” in De Chirico, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1982), p. 57.
2. James Thrall Soby, De Chirico, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1955), pp. 49–50.