Beyond the Metaphysical: Milan show aims to reassess Giorgio de Chirico’s late period

Metaphysical matador: De Chiricos Self-Portrait in Torero Costume (1941-42) © G. de Chirico by SIAE

“And what shall I love if not the enigma?” goes the inscription in Latin across the base of Giorgio de Chiricos melancholic 1911 self-portrait. Hailed as a visionary by the Surrealists for his unsettling Metaphysical paintings of the 1910s and then widely reviled for his kitschy later work, the Italian painter has become an enigma in the history of Modern art.

“De Chirico is very famous but not well known,” says Luca Massimo Barbero, the curator of a new exhibition revisiting the artists prolific but baffling career trajectory at Milans Palazzo Reale. Organised in collaboration with the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico in Rome, the show comes almost 50 years after the Palazzo Reale gave an 81-year-old De Chirico his first major retrospective in his home country in 1970.

“While in France and America he was celebrated, in Italy he was often attacked, detested,” Barbero says. Late De Chirico was perceived as a cantankerous conservative, whose obsession with antiquity and the Old Masters was not only out of step with the rise of abstraction but possibly politically suspect—carrying the taint of Fascism.

“De Chiricos Metaphysical work is great but theres at least 40 years of other works”

De Chirico, who signed his 1940s neo-Baroque self-portraits “Pictor Optimus” (the best painter), seemed to relish the part of provocateur. He gave “surreal” TV interviews and denounced the Venice Biennale for including an “indecent fake” among his early works in its 1948 Metaphysical painting exhibition. In protest, he staged “anti-Biennale” displays at the Bucintoro boat club in Venice in 1950, 1952 and 1954.

For Barbero, such prickly behaviour can be reassessed today as a calculated performance, a marker of the artists “polemical genius” and contemporary sensibility. Far from losing his way, “he knew exactly what he was doing” and “was having a lot of fun provoking [the art world]”, Barbero argues. He hopes the Milan exhibition will help a new generation of Italian art lovers to embrace the contradictions of De Chirico beyond the famous first decade.

Giorgio de Chirico's The Enigma of a Day (1914) © G. de Chirico by SIAE, 2019

“De Chiricos Metaphysical work is great but theres at least 40 years of other works,” Barbero says. “He belongs to a very Pop [aesthetic] in a way but hes so odd that we still cant put him anywhere. The only place we have to label him is Metaphysical.”

With around 100 works ranging from 1909 to 1973 displayed in eight largely chronological galleries, the exhibition will explore recurring motifs such as mannequins, gladiators and illogical interiors—“all the elements that make De Chiricos painting an absolute invention”. Barbero sees the 1920s gladiator series as an ironic riposte to those old accusations of Fascism. In contrast to the monumental masculine ideal of the time, “if you look at De Chiricos gladiators you start to laugh because they look like little toys”.

Perhaps wisely, the show reserves the “most difficult” creations of late De Chirico for the last room: self-portraits in historical costume, a picture-postcard view of Venice and three replicas of a celebrated Metaphysical composition, The Disquieting Muses (1917). De Chiricos controversial practice of reproducing his more popular early compositions and backdating the canvases—whRead More – Source