GIORGIO DE CHIRICO (1888-1978) Ettore e Andromaca 21 1/2 x 15 5/8in. (54.8 x 39.8cm)

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Lot 38
Ettore e Andromaca 21 1/2 x 15 5/8in. (54.8 x 39.8cm)

Sold for US$ 461,000 inc. premium
Ettore e Andromaca
signed 'G. de Chirico' (lower left); signed and inscribed 'questa pittura / metafisica: / "Ettore e Andromaca" / è opera autentica / da me eseguita e firmata. / Giorgio de Chirico' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 15 5/8in. (54.8 x 39.8cm)
Painted circa 1955


    Edward R. Lewis, New York, acquired circa 1960.
    By descent from the above to the present owner, 1984.

    The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico and is recorded in their archives under the number 066/11/13 OT.

    Ettore e Andromaca (Hector and Andromache) offers an insight into a dialogue that would inspire the Surrealists between the two World Wars. As much as any 20th Century artist, de Chirico provided the foundation and the visual language for artistic innovators such as Salvador Dalì, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst and René Magritte. Together with the Carlo Carrà (later in his career) and Mario Sironi, de Chirico established a style of painting that would provide a fertile framework for writers and artists to respond to through the century.

    In Ettore e Andromaca, two mannequins - one female with a long Grecian cape and the other male - stand with a purposeful, theatrical air. They seem to be attached and embracing, and yet the viewer's eye is drawn to the mechanical, geometric elements placed around the figures. These disparate elements literally support them and prop them up. Around the pair de Chirico draws the viewer's eye with characteristic long shadows, establishing recessional space and creating an otherworldly landscape which seems to envelope the central subject. There is a sense of isolation as the two figures are set in a time and place that seems distant and beyond civilization.

    De Chirico would have encountered mannequins much as Eugène Atget did in his inventively composed photographs of Parisian shop windows. The mannequin, a faceless man without a voice, is also a reference to de Chirico's brother Alberto Savino's dramatic poem Les Chantes de la mi-mort of 1914, written when the brothers were living in Paris, early in their intense friendship with Guillaume Apollinaire. The conceit of the faceless man also conjures links to Alfred Jarry's notorious Ubu Roi, which influenced many writers and artists in the Surrealist circle. The mannequin allows the artist to layer his intricate compositions with multiple levels of meaning, notably in expressing the synthetic, manipulated environment of the 'abnormal world' which for him was so deeply evocative of modern life.

    Giorgio de Chirico was born into a noble Sicilian family in Volos, a coastal city in the province of Thessaly in Greece. De Chirico's father Evariste worked for the Thessalian railroad, under construction at the time the artist was born. According to James Thrall Soby, a historian and friend of de Chirico, his father's choice of profession as an architectural engineer was influential to his son and the art he would make between 1910 and 1918. Very often in de Chirico's early paintings, for example in The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (Private Collection; painted 1914), trains disturb or interrupt the landscapes. The locomotives stand as a reminder of the modern world encroaching on the classical landscapes of Italy and Greece. De Chirico's family later moved to Athens and it was there that the artist received his first formal training as a painter. Evariste de Chirico died in 1905, precipitating a crisis which saw the family leave for a new life in Munich, which at the turn of the century vied with Paris as am artistic capital. It was thought that the new city would suit de Chirico's brother as he pursued his musical ambitions.

    In Munich de Chirico enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts, which encouraged in him a strong dislike for the avant-garde. Instead he gravitated towards neo-Classical painters such as the Swiss-German Arnold Böcklin, best known now for his paintings of mythical subjects reminiscent of early 19th Century salon painters but at the time very influential. In de Chirico's painting The Dying Centaur (1909) Böcklin's influence is clearly evident, as is the mood of the Symbolist Max Klinger.

    Perhaps a more important influence on de Chirico in this period was the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche had rooted his thought in the study Greek and Latin texts, and it was in this light that De Chirico would have encountered the philosopher's writings. It is perhaps no coincidence that Nietzsche, like de Chirico, held Turin in particularly high regard, admiring the strength of its architecture and its timeless quality, elements that the painter would return to in his depictions of the iconic spaces of the city.

    Nietzsche was to be a great catalyst for many 20th Century artists, with his The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, written in 1872, becoming particularly influential as writers and artists confronted the challenges of their age. In this seminal text Nietzsche turns to Classical Athens. He evokes a time when human suffering was at the very center of Greek life and culture, whether expressed in war or entertainment. This struggle between the Apollonian (representing beauty and order) and the Dionysian (the primal, wild reaction to the sublime), and the manner in which tragedy can inspire animal-like behavior in man, lies at the heart of the work. Ara Merjian has written extensively about de Chirico and Nietzsche, particularly on the eve of the First World War when the artist developed some of his most iconic compositions. Marjian locates the subjects of Chirico's paintings as metaphors for the travails of man faced with a constantly changing, shifting, modern world, with all the uncertainty that represents. By the second half of the century, this sense of civilization forced to rely upon a new way of thinking while facing total destruction, particularly for those who had lived through two world wars, was profoundly disquieting.

    In 1917 de Chirico made a series of highly complex drawings of mannequins in claustrophobic interiors, including The Duet, an almost identical composition to the present painting. In that drawing, however, the towers of Turin are placed on the horizon, with perspectival lines behind the figures leading to a single vanishing point. In building this composition, de Chirico looked back to traditional themes, appropriating the Greek myth of two ill-fated lovers. As told in Homer's Iliad, Andromache, a princess of Thebes, was forced from her native city into marriage with the Trojan prince Hector. Having given birth to an heir, Astyanax, and despite their unhappy introduction, the two fall in love. De Chirico shows the pair embracing before Hector's final combat: he is slain by Achilles, initiating a series of events which sees the city of Troy fall, Astyanax thrown to his death from the walls of the citadel, and then Andromache seeing her brothers and father fall to Achilles' sword. Andromache is held up as a representation of eternal love, sacrifice and stoicism.

    The characters in de Chirico's painting are, however, more than human. His faceless mannequins are used to denote mythical characters, giving an eerie and detached air to the tragic story. While the title conjures up the works of the Old Masters, who had regularly addressed the subject, de Chirico leads away from a straight interpretation of the story, imbuing it with an uncanny air which pervades the picture. In essence de Chirico presents us with chaos and the struggle of human suffering, with the mannequins placed in a carefully orchestrated metaphysical world.

    In the 1950s, when he painted the present work and after a long estrangement from the Surrealists, de Chirico was looking closely at earlier artists, particularly from the Baroque period. His renewed interest in Neoclassical and Baroque painting allowed him to retrace his steps, revisiting the key moments in his career, literally creating and melding new cityscapes. This version of Ettore e Andromaca is a great homage to de Chirico's journey as an artist.
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