Giorgio De Chirico's Biography

Giuseppe Maria Alberto Giorgio de Chirico was born in Volo, the capital of Thessaly Greece, on 10 July 1888, to Italian parents. His father, Evaristo, of a noble family of Sicilian origins, is an engineer engaged in the construction of the Thessaly railway. The mother, Gemma Cervetto, comes from a family of Genoese origins. In 1891 his brother Andrea (who will take the name of Alberto Savinio in 1914) was born in Athens. His, some fundamental novels of the Italian twentieth century (such as “Hermaphrodito” or “Listen to your heart, city“, “Narrate men your story” and “CasaLa Vita “). 1899 and where Giorgio takes his first drawing lessons. The family re-establishes himself in Athens where Giorgio attended the Polytechnic from 1903 to 1906.

In May 1905 his father, who had been ill for some years, died at the age of 62. In September 1906, the mother decides to leave Greece with her two children. After brief stops in Venice and Milan, the family moved to Munich where Giorgio attended the Academy of Fine Arts. De Chirico devoted himself to the study of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger, he reads Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Weininger with great interest. He returns to Milan in June 1909. In this period, he paints pictures of Böcklinian influence. He suffers from severe intestinal disorders as a result of his father’s death.

Metaphysical art: Florence-Paris-Ferrara 1910-1918

In March 1910, the family moved to Florence. De Chirico later wrote in his Memoirs: “in Florence my health deteriorated; I sometimes painted small pictures; the Böcklinian period had passed and I had begun to paint subjects where I tried to express that strong and mysterious feeling that I had discovered in Nietzsche’s books: the melancholy of beautiful autumn days, in the afternoon, in Italian cities “. Thus, was born his first metaphysical painting: L’énigme d’un après-midi d’automne inspired by a vision he had in Piazza Santa Croce. The work is preceded by L’énigme de oracle and followed, again in 1910 in Florence, by L’énigme de l’heure and the famous self-portrait Portrait de l’artist par lui-même with the lapidary Nietzschean epigraph “Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est? ” (“And what will I love if not what is enigma?”). On July 14, 1911 he arrives in Paris where he will develop the theme of the Piazza d’Italia. He took part in an exhibition for the first time at the Salon d’Automne in 1912. In March 1913 he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants. He is noticed by Picasso and Apollinaire who, enthusiastic about his works, reviews the exhibition that the artist creates in his studio in October in the “Intransigeant“. The poet defines him as “the most surprising painter of the young generation” and, in January 1914, they began to collaborate together as can be seen from the letters written by the artist at the time. De Chirico presents Savinio to Apollinaire at the end of January and, together, they attend the meetings of the “Les Soirées de Paris”. He meets Paul Guillaume, his first merchant. In that context, he meets Ardengo Soffici, Constantin Brancusi, Max Jacob and André Derain. He paints the famous Portrait de Guillaume Apollinaire; the poet will dedicate the poem Océan de Terre to him the following year. The iconographic cycle of the Mannequins begins.

In May 1915 de Chirico and Savinio returned to Italy to present themselves to the military authorities of Florence and enlist as volunteers and, later, they were sent to work in Ferrara, where Giorgio was hired as a scriptural. He begins to paint the first metaphysical interiors. Key elements of De Chirico’s metaphysical works are the immense squares devoid of human presence in which bizarre elements emerge such as mannequins, marble busts and classical columns. From these works there is often a sense of loneliness and restlessness, as if one were immersed in a strange dream. For the figure of the mannequin, a symbol of the contemporary man-automaton, De Chirico draws inspiration from the “man without a face“, a character in a play by his brother Alberto Savinio, painter and writer. In 1916 he met Filippo de Pisis, just twenty years old. In 1917 he spent a few months at the Villa del Seminario military hospital for nervous diseases, where the futurist painter Carlo Carrà is also located. The two will initiate the current known as “metaphysical painting“. By “metaphysical painting” is meant an art that uses the typical technical tools of painting (perspective, chiaroscuro, colour) to represent something that goes beyond sensory experience, leaving room for dreams and visions that are the fruit of the unconscious. In metaphysical painting even places, however realistic, take on a dreamlike value due to an often distorted perspective, apparently out of place elements (statues, mannequins) and unnatural colours. The most famous works of this period are Il grande metafisico, Ettore e Andromaca, Il trovatore and Le muse inquietanti.

Get in touch with the Dada environment of Tristan Tzara and the magazine “Dada 2“. He continues to keep in touch with the Parisian environment and to send his works to Paul Guillaume who on 3 November 1918 held an unusual exhibition presenting the artist’s paintings on the scene of the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier. Apollinaire died on 9 November 1918. In the first issue of “Valori Plastici” the explorer Zeusi publishes the text in which he proclaims: “We must discover the demon in everything. […] It is necessary to discover the eye in everything. […] We are explorers ready for other departures ”, dedicating the essay to Mario Broglio, the magazine’s founder.

Metaphysical painting will lay the foundations for the birth of “Surrealism“, an artistic current that will privilege the representation of the artist’s inner self at the expense of realistic fidelity. Surrealist artists are Mirò, Dalì, Magritte.

The classical-romantic period: Rome 1919-1925

He moved to Rome on 1 January 1919. A dense correspondence reports the project of marriage with his fiancée Antonia Bolognesi, met in Ferrara in the autumn of 1917. Their relationship ends in December 1919.

In February, his first personal exhibition takes place in Rome at the Casa d’Arte Bragaglia. On that occasion he publishes the paper Noi metafisici in ” Cronache d’attualità”, in which he writes: “Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were the first to teach the profound meaning of the non-meaning of life and how such non-meaning could be transformed into art [… ]. The good new architects are philosophers who have overcome philosophy”. In that period, de Chirico rediscovered the art of great artists in museums and began making copies from Italian Renaissance masters. In Florence he studied the technique of tempera and painting on wood. In 1921 a personal exhibition was held at the Galleria Arte in Milan. The same year he entered into an epistolary relationship with André Breton. He writes for various magazines where he publishes essays on Raphael, Böcklin, Klinger, Previati, Renoir, Gauguin and Morandi. In 1922 an important personal exhibition was inaugurated at the Galerie Paul Guillaume in Paris in which fifty-five works are exhibited. André Breton signs the presentation. In 1923, on the occasion of the II Roman Biennale, Paul and Gala Éluard went to Rome and bought several of his works. Participates in the XIV Venice Biennale. In 1924, in Rome, he meets the Russian dancer and future archaeologist Raissa Gourevitch Krol who will become his wife. Towards the end of the year he is in Paris where, at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, he creates sets and costumes for La Giara di Pirandello staged by the Swedish Ballets with music by Alfredo Casella. He collaborates on the first issue of “La Révolution Surréaliste” by publishing his writing Rêve and is immortalized by Man Ray in the famous group photo. He settled in the French capital in 1925.

The second French period and stays in Italy: Paris-Milan-Florence 1925-1935

In these years the research on the Metaphysics of light and the Mediterranean myth began, giving rise to themes such as Archeologi, I Cavalli in riva al mare, I Trofei, I Paesaggi nella stanza, I Mobili nella valle and I Gladiatori. On the occasion of one of his personal exhibitions at the Galerie Léonce Rosenberg, the surrealists harshly criticize the artist’s most recent works. The break with the surrealists is now total and destined to worsen in the following years. He meets the patron Albert C. Barnes who becomes his great collector and supporter. In 1928, Jean Cocteau’s monograph was published in Paris: Le Mystère Laïc – Essai d’étude indirect, with lithographs by the artist and, in Milan, the Small Treatise on Painting Technique from Libri Scheiwiller. In 1929, Pierre Lévy’s Éditions du Carrefour published Hebdomeros, le peintre et son génie chez l’écrivain. Prepare the sets and costumes for the ballet Le Bal, produced by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (Monte Carlo, Paris and London). He exhibits in Italy and abroad in Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Brussels, London and New York.

In these years he painted silent lives, portraits and female nudes of a luminous naturalism. Gallimard publishes Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, illustrated by sixty-six lithographs by the artist in which the theme of the Sun appears on the easel for the first time. On February 3, 1930 he marries Raissa, when the relationship is already compromised. In the autumn he meets Isabella Pakszwer (later Isabella Far) who will become his second wife and will remain close to him until his death. At the end of 1931 the break with Raissa is final. He exhibited at the XVIII Venice Biennale in the room dedicated to Italian artists in Paris. De Chirico and Isabella move to Florence for a year. In 1933 he took part in the 5th Milan Triennale for which he painted the monumental fresco La cultura italiana. He continues his activity for the theatre: he performs sets and costumes for Bellini’s I Puritani, for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (1933), the sets for Jorio di D’Annunzio’s Daughter, directed by Pirandello at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. In 1934 he made ten lithographs on the theme of the Mysterious Baths for Jean Cocteau’s Mythologie. He participates in the II Quadriennale of Rome in February 1935 with forty-five works, including seven paintings on the new theme of the Mysterious Baths.

America: New York 1936-1938

In August 1936 he left for New York. He exhibits his recent works at the Julien Levy Gallery, many of which have been purchased by collector Albert C. Barnes for his museum and by various collectors. De Chirico collaborates with the magazines “Vogue” and “Harper’s Bazaar” and creates a mural panel entitled Petronio and the modern Adone in tails for the Scheiner tailor shop in New York. He decorates a wall of the Helena Rubinstein beauty institute; he creates, in an initiative that also involves Picasso and Matisse, a dining room at the Decorators Picture Gallery. In June 1937 he received from his brother the news of his mother’s death.

Pre and post war Europe: Milan-Paris-Florence-Rome 1938-1946

In January 1938 he returned to Italy and settled in Milan, and then moved to Paris, disgusted by the decrees for “the defense of the race“. He exhibits at the III Quadrennial of National Art in Rome. In Florence, during the war years, he was hosted by his antiquarian friend Luigi Bellini, together with Isabella, a Russian Jew born in Warsaw. The creation of some terracotta sculptures begins: The Archaeologists, Hector and Andromache, Hippolytus and his horse and Pietà. He publishes Mr. Dudron in “Perspectives” and the text on the sculpture Brevis Pro Plastica Oratio in “Aria d’ Italia“. James Thrall Soby’s The Early Chirico was released in 1941. Hebdomeros was published in Italian in 1942. He writes numerous theoretical articles in various periodicals which were later reunited in Commedia dell’arte Moderna (Rome 1945), together with essays from the “Plastic Values” period of the early 1920s. In 1944 he settled permanently in Rome. Photographer Irving Penn portrays him between the celebratory and the ironic with a laurel wreath. In 1945 he published the autobiographical texts: Memorie della mia vita e 1918-1925 – Ricordi di Roma. He intensifies his research on ancient masters, performing d’après by Titian, Rubens, Delacroix, Watteau, Fragonard and Courbet. Unleashes a tough fight against the falsifications of his works, a phenomenon that dates back to the mid-twenties. On May 18, 1946 he married Isabella Pakszwer. In June 1946, with the approval of Breton, a personal exhibition of the artist was held at the Galerie Allard in Paris in which twenty false metaphysical works by the surrealist painter Oscar Dominguez were exhibited.

Finally home: Piazza di Spagna, Rome 1947-1967

During 1947 he moved his studio and, the following year, also his home, to Piazza di Spagna 31 where he will reside for the rest of his life. After the Second World War, de Chirico started what is known as the “Baroque phase“, with works that portray still lifes, historical mythological subjects and self-portraits such as the famous Self-portrait with armor (1948 – at the top of the article). At the end of 1948 he was appointed a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and in 1949 he set up a solo exhibition in this prestigious venue. In 1950, in controversy with the Biennale – which two years earlier had exhibited a “formidable forgery” and had awarded the prize for metaphysics to Giorgio Morandi – de Chirico organized an “Antibiennale” in the headquarters of the Società Canottieri Bucintoro in Venice. with the “anti-modern” painters; similar personal exhibitions followed, in the same venue, in 1952 and 1954. On May 5, 1952, Alberto Savinio died in Rome. He illustrates I Promessi Sposi in 1965 and the Iliad translated by Quasimodo in 1968. Towards the end of the 1960s, the printing of some bronze sculptures began.

The last years and neo-metaphysical art: Rome 1968-1978

Following a period that finds him busy with some commissioning contracts, the eighty-year-old artist regains a working tranquillity and begins a new period of research known as the Neometaphysics, during which he paints works on meditation and the reworking of subjects of his painting and graphic art of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. Subjects such as the Mannequin, the Troubadour, the Archaeologists, the Gladiators, the Mysterious Baths and the Sun on the stand are reinterpreted in a new light, with bright colours and more serene atmospheres than the severe and dark ones of the first Metaphysics, pervaded by a strange feeling of restlessness. It is with great poetry that he sets new combinations of subjects within his most famous spatial innovations such as the Piazza d’Italia and the Metaphysical Interiors, once again inhabited by mythological characters like Minerva and Mercury.

In 1970 at Palazzo Reale in Milan, an important anthology of the artist took place. In 1971 Claudio Bruni Sakraischik begins to publish the General Catalog of Giorgio de Chirico. The following year, the De Chirico by de Chirico exhibition took place at the New York Cultural Center with 182 works from the Maestro’s collection, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and lithographs. De Chirico goes to New York for the occasion. In 1973 he created the Fountain of the Mysterious Baths for the 15th Milan Triennale in Parco Sempione. The same year he made a trip to Greece during which the documentary The Mystery of Infinity was made for RAI. In November 1974, he was awarded the title of Academician of France.

On November 20, 1978 Giorgio de Chirico died in Rome at the age of 90 and since 1992 his remains rest in the church of San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere, Rome.

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