Giorgio de Chirico: Myth and Mystery features twenty rarely shown pieces of sculpture together with closely related drawings and paintings. The display focuses specifically on the artist's output during the forty years from 1920 onwards. 

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Galleria d'Arte Maggiore, Bologna, and the Estorick Collection. This follows a highly successful exhibition of etchings by Giorgio Morandi jointly organised by the two galleries. 

Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico
Credit: Lisa Sotilis, Lisa Sotilis Collection, Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 14.1.2014

Giorgio de Chirico - About the Artist

The Father of Pittura Metafisica

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) is regarded as the father of Pittura metafisica. According to The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists[1] the term refers to works created between about 1909 and 1920 by Italian painters such as Giorgio de Chirico and his younger brother who went by the name Alberto Savinio, as well as Carlo Carra, Giorgio Morandi and Filippo de Pisis.  Their works, which foreshadowed some aspects of Surrealism, were characterised by dream imagery set in scenes of architectural fantasies. 

Giuseppe Maria Alberto Giorgio de Chirico was born in Greece to Italian parents. Growing up in Greece gave him a deep love of Greek history and culture which is reflected in his work.

After studying in Athens, Florence and Munich he moved to Italy in 1909. At this time he started painting cityscapes characterised by strange pseudo-classical buildings shown in exaggerated perspective with elements such as mannequin-like figures, architectural fragments and a mixture of other items including boxes and maps. That first phase of painting, which lasted from 1909 to 1915, shows the very strong influence of artists such as Arnold Boecklin and Max Klinger. De Chirico was also influenced by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Between 1915 and 1919 De Chirico's paintings depicted interiors, and as in his first period, these featured strange and unusual objects such as architectural drawing instruments, mannequin-like figures and furniture. The entire period, from 1909 to 1919, is referred to as the Metaphysical Period and paintings from this time had a huge influence on the Surrealist movement which began in Paris in the 1920s. De Chirico once said:

″to be really immortal a work of art must go beyond the limits of the human: good sense and logic will be missing from it. In this way it will come close to the dream state, and also to the mentality of children″. 

I think this statement sums up his metaphysical works very well.


Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City: Nietzsche, Modernism, Paris
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This book shows de Chirico's pre-occupation with surreal cityscapes.

A Return to the Old Masters

In 1917, De Chirico formed the short-lived Scuolo Metafisica (Metaphysical School) with Carlo Carra, Filippo de Pisis, Giorgio Morandi and Mario Sironi. However, in 1919, influenced by the works of Titian, the artist switched to the style of the Old Masters. From this point, until his death in 1978, we see a variety of works both in the Metaphysical style and in the style of the Old Masters often exhibited side by side. 

Although De Chirico's name is more often linked to paintings, he was also a very talented sculptor. In 1927, he wrote an essay about sculpture in which he said: 

″in the museum the appearance of the statue […] is similar to that of people glimpsed in a room we thought was empty. The lines of the walls, the floor and the ceiling separate the statue from the outside world; the statue is thus no longer a figure destined to merge with nature, the beauty of the landscape, or to complete the aesthetic harmony of an architectural construction; it appears to us in its most solitary aspect, and is rather a spectre that shows itself to us and surprises us″.

Hector and Andromache, Oil on Canvas, 1942

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), Hector and Andromache, 1942, Oil on canvas, 80 x 60 cm.
Credit: Private collection. Courtesy Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna (Italy)

Highlights of the Exhibition

Hector and Andromache

De Chirico often referred back to older paintings and drawings, creating terracotta versions of the curious figures that occupied these works. Many of these figures, such as Orpheus, Castor, and Hector and Andromache, shown as tailors' dummies and automatons, hark back to classical mythology. In the 1960s he started making bronze sculptures, silver patina and gilded bronze representations of some of these characters. Several sculptures from this period are included in the exhibition such as the bronze Hector and Andromache, (1968) which is shown with the oil painting that inspired it (see above), originally created by the artist in 1942.

De Chirico's success in this field was legendary, so much so that in 1972 he received the Ibico Reggino Prize for Sculpture.

Hector and Andromache, Patinated Bronze, 1968

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), Hector and Andromache, 1968, Patinated bronze, 48 x 19 x 27 cm.
Credit: Private Collection. Courtesy Galleria d'Arte Maggiore, Bologna, (Italy)

The Disquieting Afternoon

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), The Disquieting Afternoon, 1972, Pencil and tempera on card, 59.5 x 50 cm
Credit: Private Collection. Courtesy Galleria d'Arte Maggiore, Bologna, (Italy)

The Disquieting Muses

Melpomene and Thalia, the Muses of tragedy and comedy, was a theme De Chirico returned to several times throughout his life. They feature in two closely related works:  a drawing entitled The Disquieting Afternoon (1972) and a bronze known as The Disquieting Muses (1968). 

In The Disquieting Afternoon, the Muses are set among classical architectural elements: one sits, with a mask by her side, and the other stands, framed by a window. Both are dressed in classical garments. Although the architectural elements are very precisely drawn, the figures are almost roughly drawn.  The bronze, which pre-dates the drawing by some four years, shows the same two figures, both in classical clothing, one sitting and one standing with a mask between them.  

The Disquieting Muses - Bronze, 1968.

  Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), The Disquieting Muses, The Disquieting Muses, 1968, Gilded bronze, 35.5 x 16 x 16 cm
Credit: Private collection. Courtesy Galleria d'Arte Maggiore, Bologna (Italy)

From a Personal Perspective

After looking at all these beautiful drawings, paintings and sculptures, I have to say my favourite piece is the Fight of Horsemen and Infantrymen, dating from 1928. As the title tells us, the tempera painting shows a hand-to-hand fight between a group of horsemen and infantrymen, some of whom hold shields. The figures, all naked, reveal De Chirico's expertise as a draughtsman in the finely detailed and very beautiful musculature of the men, a complete contrast to The Disquieting Afternoon discussed above.

Fight of Horsemen and Infantrymen, 1928

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), Fight of Horsemen and Infantrymen, 1928, Tempera on paper, 48.5 x 32.8 cm
Credit: Private collection. Courtesy Galleria d'Arte Maggiore, Bologna (Italy)

Visit the Exhibition

Giorgio de Chirico Myth and Mystery will be on show from 15th January 2014 to 19th April 2014. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that explores these works and gives a valuable insight into the working practices of this artistic genius. 

Tickets for the exhibition and information about the book can be obtained from the Estorick Collection of Modern Art.

Other Exhibitions in London 

London has plenty of other exhibitions to choose from including the following:


Giorgio De Chirico: Myth and Mystery
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This fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN