Giorgio de Chirico

147. Chirico

Biography

In his art, Chirico sought to evoke the hidden meanings behind everyday life, and his enigmatic scenes of empty cities, menacing statues, mysterious shadows and strange combinations of everyday objects inspired the artists of the Surrealist movement in the 1910’s. e Chirico is most famous for the eerie mood and strange artificiality of the cityscapes he painted in the 1910’s. Their great achievement lies in the fact that he treats the scenes not as conventional cityscapes – as perspectives on places full of movement and everyday incident – but rather as the kinds of haunted streets we might encounter in dreams. They are backdrops for pregnant symbols or even, at times, for collections of objects that resemble still lifes. De Chirico’s innovative approach to these pictures – an approach rather like that of a theatrical set designer – has encouraged critics to describe them as “dream writings.” They are, in other words, disordered collections of symbols. And this points to their difference from the so-called “dream images” of later Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí, which appear to want to capture the contents of a dream with a camera. Key to de Chirico’s work is his love of the classical past. He came to this through his appreciation for German Romanticism, and it was this that revealed to him new ways of looking at the Classics, and ways of treating themes of tragedy, enigma, and melancholy. For de Chirico, the themes and motifs of the Greek and Roman Classics remained valid even in the modern world. However, he recognized that the clash of the past and present produced strange effects – suggesting sorrow, disorientation, nostalgia – and some of the most powerful qualities in his work of the 1910s come from staging this contrast. Much of the impact of de Chirico’s pictures is derived from the restrained clarity of his style. He achieved this by rejecting the formal innovations of much modern art since Impressionism and by instead opting for a frank, realistic manner that allowed him to depict objects with simplicity. The result was a style that, rather like René Magritte’s, is rich in evocative mystery despite the straightforward character of the depiction. De Chirico always believed that his early academic training was vital in preparing him for his later work, and this conservative attitude set him apart from other modernists – particularly from the Surrealists who did so much to elevate his reputation. In the 1920’s this outlook grew into a renewed belief in the value of craftsmanship and the Old Masters tradition, and it directed a shift in his style towards greater detail, richer color, and more conventionally accurate modeling of forms and volumes, as well as more emphatic references to Renaissance and Baroque art.