Born on July 10, 1888, in Volos, Greece, Giorgio de Chirico was a figure that loomed large in the 20th-century art world. His distinct style paved the way for the Metaphysical art movement, which blended classical influences with an eeriness that would later inspire Surrealists.
Growing up in Greece, de Chirico’s early exposure to the ancient ruins and the Mediterranean landscapes left a profound impression on him. It was in this setting that his artistic inclinations were nurtured. Following the demise of his father in 1905, the de Chirico family relocated to Munich, where Giorgio would study at the Academy of Fine Arts. It was during this time that he became deeply influenced by the philosophical works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer. Their writings, particularly on the concepts of the eternal return and the unconscious, would find a way into his art.
De Chirico’s works often depict desolate city squares with long, stretching shadows. The classical architecture in his paintings, combined with the absence of human figures or just a few isolated figures, creates a dreamlike and mysterious atmosphere. One of his most recognizable pieces, “The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon” (1910), encapsulates this mood. Painted after a revelation in Florence’s Piazza Santa Croce, it shows an empty square with a statue and a distant train. This theme of melancholy and nostalgia runs through much of his oeuvre.
His style began to evolve during his time in Paris (1911-1915), where he mingled with influential artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. The city offered him exposure to the burgeoning avant-garde movements. However, instead of blending into the crowd, de Chirico’s work stood out for its otherworldly portrayal of reality.
The Metaphysical painting movement, which he co-founded with his younger brother Alberto Savinio, was characterized by these surreal, dream-like cityscapes. However, post World War I, de Chirico’s style began shifting. He returned to traditional painting methods, studying the Old Masters and adopting a more classical approach. This change was not well-received by many of his contemporaries, especially the Surrealists, who saw him as abandoning his earlier innovative techniques.
De Chirico’s influence is undeniable. From the Surrealists like Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, who were inspired by his eerie townscapes, to filmmakers and modern-day artists, his legacy continues. Despite facing criticism for his changing styles, he never confined himself to a single box, always exploring and reinventing.
Living until the age of 90, Giorgio de Chirico left behind a vast collection of works. He passed away on November 20, 1978, in Rome, but his paintings continue to captivate, mystify, and inspire.