Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) Apparizione della ciminiera 32 x 21 3/8 in (81.3 x 54.3 cm) (Painted circa 1939-1944)
Lot 33
Giorgio de Chirico
(1888-1978)
Apparizione della ciminiera 32 x 21 3/8 in (81.3 x 54.3 cm)
Sold for US$ 324,500 inc. premium

Impressionist and Modern Art

14 Nov 2017, 17:00 EST

New York

Lot Details
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) Apparizione della ciminiera 32 x 21 3/8 in (81.3 x 54.3 cm) (Painted circa 1939-1944)
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Apparizione della ciminiera
signed and inscribed 'G. de Chirico 1917' (upper left), faintly signed and inscribed again 'G. de Chirico 1916' (upper left)
oil on canvas
32 x 21 3/8 in (81.3 x 54.3 cm)
Painted circa 1939-1944

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Galleria dell'Annunciata, Milan (inv. no. 4255).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1970's.

    Exhibited
    Milan, Palazzo Reale, Giorgio de Chirico, April–May 1970.
    Hanover, Orangerie Herrenhausen, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Giorgio de Chirico, 10 July–30 August 1970, no. 34.
    Genoa, Palazzo dell'Accademia and Palazzo Reale, Immagine per la città, 8 April–11 June 1972.
    Berlin, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Die industrialisierung der Stadt, 29 July–26 August 1978, no. 15.
    New York, Borghi & Co, Giorgio de Chirico 1920 - 1950, 29 November 1990–15 January 1991.

    Literature
    E. Montù, Masterpieces of Modern Italian Art, Milan, 1950 (illustrated; titled 'Paesaggio metafisico' and dated 1914).
    M. Carrà, P. Waldberg and E. Rathke, Metaphysical Art, London, 1971, pl. VI (illustrated p. 150: dated 1917).
    M. Di Carlo et al., Giorgio De Chirico 1920-1950, Milan, 1990, p. 155.
    M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, I bagni misteriosi, De Chirico negli anni Trenta: Parigi, Italia, New York, Milan, 1991, no. 40, p. 333
    M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, Giorgio de Chirico, Gli anni Trenta, Milan, 1995, no. 40 (illustrated p. 333).
    Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico (eds.), Giorgio de Chirico, catalogo generale, vol. I, Opere dal 1912 al 1976, Falciano, 2014, no. 183 (illustrated p. 189; dated as early 1940s).

    The Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico had kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.

    Giorgio De Chirico's cityscapes are among the most recognizable and influential works of 20th Century painting. He first explored the possibilities of the genre in 1910, returning to it throughout his career. Certain compositions, such as Piazza d'Italia and Le muse inquietanti were revisited regularly, but it is notable that the present work appears to be the artist's only version of this arrangement. Although backdated with typically roguish humor to 1916 and 1917, a date which several authorities accept, Apparizione della ciminiera is now thought to have been painted in the early 1940s. During this period, De Chirico, who was antithetical to the Fascist regime, was living in deliberate obscurity in Florence with Isabella Far, his Russian Jewish future wife. The close but satisfying composition of the present work can be read as a hopeful statement in dark times.

    De Chirico's family was of Italian origin, but had lived in the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean for several generations. He was born in Volos, Greece, where his father was employed as an engineer for the Thessalian railroad company. His initial training was in Athens, but in 1906 he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, then seen as one of the most progressive in Europe. In Bavaria, De Chirico immersed himself in the philosophy of Nietzsche and Schoppenhauer and the darkly alluring paintings of the Symbolist Arnold Böcklin. The themes of alienation and a brooding and romantic solitude were to be central to his approach. Arriving in Italy in 1909, having been born in Thessaly of émigré parents, educated in Germany and speaking Italian with a slight Greek accent that he retained throughout his life, it is perhaps unsurprising that a feeling of dislocation and of being a foreigner in his own land would be so powerful.

    He went initially to Milan, also spending time in Turin and Florence before leaving for Paris in 1911. He remained in the French capital until 1915. It was in this period that he mastered what he called the 'metaphysical' mode of painting from which his greatest early paintings spring. Precursors to the towering arcades of the present work can be found in compositions such as The Anxious Journey (1913; New York, Museum of Modern Art), The Surprise (1914; Williams College, MA), and Purity of a Dream (1915; Private Collection).

    In each of these works De Chirico was at pains to leave meaning deliberately ambiguous. Indeed, perhaps no single, precise interpretation was intended. It has been suggested that the nature of the work is such that none is possible. In his self-portrait of 1911 he added the legend 'Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est? ' ('And what shall I love if not the enigma?). Throughout, De Chirico mobilizes a highly intuitive, personal approach to painting that set him apart from the prevailing modes of Cubism, which was too theoretical, and Futurism, which was too definite. Indeed, his reliance on intuition and the sub-conscious as manifested, for example, in dreams, marks him as a forerunner of Surrealism by more than 10 years. André Breton discovered his work with the dealer Paul Guillaume in Paris in the early 1920s and declared his genius.

    Apparizione della ciminiera shares many of the formal characteristics of the paintings of the early 1910s but a close reading suggests additional interpretations. The composition is built up from the lower edge with a steeply ramped perspective choked with bisecting arcades, blocks of stone and mysterious industrial components, each obeying a bewildering and contradictory array of perspectival vanishing points. These recall the fantasies of Piranesi or the blank arcades and empty bombast of Mussolini's EUR quarter in Rome, under construction in an ersatz classical idiom as the painting was being created but abandoned in 1943 as the tide of war turned. The scattered vanishing points are themselves a denial of perspective, the guiding discovery of Renaissance realism. Towering over these elements, but perhaps built on their shifting foundations, are two opposing constructions. On the left a whitewashed building with neatly painted green shutters supports a brick factory chimney. Facing, or perhaps twinned with this structure on the right is the smooth side of a cylindrical tower, reminiscent of a medieval fortification, from which flies a pennant snapping in the breeze. The dynamic opposition of industrial and medieval has satisfying balance, heightened by the uncharacteristically logical perspective which draws the eye to a vanishing point hovering above the locomotive engine on the horizon at the center of the composition. This familiar image must at least in part refer to De Chirico's engineer father, and the artist's childhood in Volos were the tracks of the Thessalian railway ran behind his garden wall, a recollection and yearning of the stability and traditions of his years in Greece.

    The composition appears to be lit from three sources. A weak, tenebrous light comes from the direction of the viewer, picking out the underside of the vaults. Meanwhile a strong, clear sun shines from above the upper right corner of the painting, casting the tower in shadow and picking out the wall of the shuttered building. This is not a sleepy, dusty afternoon sun, but the crisp Northern light of autumn or winter when the midday sun sits lower in the sky. This bracing light is mirrored by the brisk breeze that animates the two pennants, the only sources of movement in the composition. The jarring light of noon is contrasted with the third source, the pellucid glimmer of dawn rising above the horizon, too clear and clean to be dusk, and the ultimate source of hope in the composition. This early dawn silhouettes the locomotive in the distance. It has built up a head of steam. A single puff of smoke hovers directly above the smokestack, suggesting that while it is stationary now it could begin to move at any moment at a signal from the engineer, perhaps pulling a line of carriages hidden behind the tower.

    The unseen engineer is the only human element in the composition. Other than the snap of the pennants and the hiss of steam the scene is silent, the narrative suspended, although there has clearly been much recent activity. The shutters are ready to burst open again. The result is eerie, and unusual in its complexity. It is perhaps not impossible to imagine De Chirico sheltering with Isabella Far at the house of the antiquarian Luigi Bellini in Florence, city of the Renaissance, watching the war unfold around him and allowing himself to hope that times were about to change.

    As we have seen though, De Chirico was wary of making too definite a claim about the precise meaning of his paintings. In his autobiography published in 1945, and so perhaps written at the time Apparizione della ciminiera was being painted, he returned to the Nietzschean roots of his cityscapes. James Thrall Soby related: 'As to the derivation of the Italian squares or 'memories of Italy', the artist gives due credit to Nietzsche by describing in his autobiography what seems to him to have been the German philosopher's most remarkable innovation: "This innovation is a strange and profound poetry, infinitely mysterious and solitary, based on Stimmung (which might be translated as 'atmosphere'), based, I say on the Stimmung of an autumn afternoon when the weather is clear and the shadows are longer than in summer, for the sun is beginning to be lower." There is no reason to doubt that Nietzsche's prose played a key part in stimulating the painter's interest in creating a poetic reconstruction of the dream-lit piazzas of Italy.' (J. Thrall Soby, Giorgio de Chirico, New York, 1955, p. 27-28).
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