Lot 5
  • 5

Giorgio de Chirico

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Giorgio de Chirico
  • Interno Metafisico con Testa di Filosofo
  • signed G. de Chirico and dated 1926 (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 81 by 65cm.; 31 3/4 by 25 3/4 in.


Paul Guillaume, Paris
Galerie Renou et Colle, Paris
Ladislav Szecsi, Paris & New York
Galleria Philippe Daverio, Milan (acquired by 1982)
John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
Private Collection, Frankfurt
Sale: Finarte, Milan, 6th June 1989, lot 109
Pace Wildenstein, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998


Milan, Galleria Philippe Daverio, Giorgio de Chirico, Parigi 1924-1930, 1982, no. 35, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Munich, Haus der Kunst & Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Giorgio de Chirico, der Metaphysiker, 1982-83, no. 73, illustrated in the catalogue
Cologne, Museum Ludwig (on loan 1983-89)
Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, De Chirico, 1984, no. 9
New York, Philippe Daverio Gallery, The Dioscuri, Giorgio de Chirico and Alberto Savinio in Paris 1924-1931, 1987-88, no. 10
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen & Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Die Andere Moderne: De Chirico, Savinio, 2001-02, no. 75, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Léonce Rosenberg, 'Giorgio de Chirico', in Bulletin de l'Effort Moderne, Paris, 1927, no. 45
Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco & Paolo Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico, Parigi 1924-1929, Milan, 1982, no. 35, pl. XV, illustrated in colour p. 405 and illustrated p. 489
Claudio Bruni Sakraischik, Catalogo Generale Giorgio de Chirico, Milan, 1983, vol. VII, no. 421, illustrated
Jean Clair, 'Giorgio de Chirico: The Terror of History', in Flash Art, no. III, March 1983, illustrated in colour p. 13
Siegfried Gohr (ed.), Museum Ludwig Bestandskatalog, Cologne, 1986, illustrated p. 49 (titled Interno metafisico (Testa di Zeus) and with incorrect measurements)
De Chirico, gli anni Venti (exhibition catalogue), Palazzo Reale, Milan, 1987, illustrated p. 180 (catalogued as belonging to the Museum Ludwig, Cologne)
Paolo Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico. Betraying the Muse: De Chirico and the Surrealists (exhibition catalogue), Paolo Baldacci Gallery, New York, 1994, fig. 108, illustrated p. 115


The canvas is unlined. There is a 1 by 4cm. patch on the reverse of the canvas, which does not appear to correspond to any retouchings or damages to the paint surface. There are two small areas in the brown pigment in the upper right quadrant that fluoresce under ultra-violet light; this might be due to artist's layers of paint, or retouching. Apart from some paint shrinkage in the thicker impasto, and some very minor stable hairlines of craquelure in the white pigment of the bust, this work is in very good condition. The artist's original thick impasto is well preserved. Colours: Overall fairly accurate, although slightly fresher in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Interno metafisico con testa di filosofo is a fine example from de Chirico's second Parisian period, articulating the eerie sense of displacement the artist sought to create through his enigmatic groupings of disparate objects. The rationale behind these complex compositions of seemingly mundane objects was the artist's wish to uncover the poetic and metaphysical possibilities that lay beneath the surface of everyday reality. As he explained in his 1919 article Sull'arte metafisica, 'Every object has two appearances: one, the current one, which we nearly always see and which is seen by people in general; the other, a spectral or metaphysical appearance beheld only by some rare individuals in moments of clairvoyance and metaphysical abstraction, as in the case of certain bodies concealed by substances impenetrable by sunlight yet discernable, for instance, by X-ray or other powerful artificial means' (Giorgio de Chirico, 'Sull'arte metafisica', in Valori Plastici, vol. I, no. 4-5, April-May 1919, p. 16). De Chirico's search for a 'second identity' in objects has been interpreted, often by the Surrealists themselves, as a precursor of the Surrealist interest in the uncanny. In fact the iconography and mood of Metaphysical art was a product of 'meditations of a Nietzschean origin'. The pessimistic and tragic mood of the writings of German philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and Otto Weininger struck a chord with de Chirico's visual impressions, and on an intellectual level he became fascinated by their ideas concerning the circularity of time. As de Chirico commented in 1919, 'the exclusion of a sense of logic from art is not the invention of us painters... art was liberated by modern philosophers and poets' ('De Chirico and the Realism of the Twenties', in De Chirico, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1982, p. 102).  


Over and beyond the philosophical ideas derived from Nietzsche, it was the lyrical nature of the vision of poetic revelation in these works that inspired de Chirico; 'I had begun to paint subjects in which I tried to express that strong and mysterious feeling I had discovered in Nietzsche's books: the melancholy of beautiful autumn days, of afternoons, of Italian cities' (De Chirico, quoted in Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, 'De Chirico in Paris 1911-1915', in ibid., p. 42; fig. 1). Whilst some commentators have sought to attribute the pervasive sense of melancholy in these works to de Chirico's intestinal complaints, a more probable explanation is the celebration of this quality in Nietzsche's 'Song of Melancholy' in Zarathustra. In this particular work, the classical Greek bust in the foreground helps evoke this quality, its steady, empty gaze symbolic of 'the distant and cool breath of mythology, the immense masks of Olympian deities, who look without seeing beyond horizons and constructions of men, with that sweetly and ineffably ambiguous glance of one who knows there is nothing to know...' (Giorgio de Chirico, catalogue preface for the exhibition of work by Alberto Savinio at the Galleria del Milione, Milan, 1940). Images of classical sculpture are a recurrent motif in de Chirico's metaphysical paintings (fig. 2), often juxtaposing remnants of antiquity with contemporary settings, and inducing his compositions with a timeless quality.


De Chirico's metaphysical art is also characterised by a distinctive style based on destabilising traditional perspective. It was through these formal aspects that the artist hoped to make the metaphysical aspect of reality apparent in his canvases; 'An absolute knowledge of the space that can be occupied by objects in a picture, as well as the space that divided them, established a new astronomy of those things that are tied to the planets by the fateful laws of gravity. The precise and clever use of planes and volumes results in the laws of the metaphysical aesthetic' (de Chirico quoted in 'De Chirico and the Realism of the Twenties', in ibid., p. 104). In the present work, the space within the 'interior' has a hallucinatory feel produced by multiple and conflicting orthogonals and foreshortened tilted planes which produce a seesaw perspective. This deliberate undermining of space parodies the stylistic origin of de Chirico's works, which lie in the ordered rationality and simplicity found in the early 15th century Florentine masters, in particular Giotto and Paolo Uccello. These Florentine artists were among the first to deploy linear perspective to create an illusion of a deep, rationally ordered space existing on the canvas, which resulted in the sense of solidity and balance of the art of this period. De Chirico's art is a subversive interpretation of this artistic technique, and by overturning the logic and order of classicism it attempts to communicate the bewildering dislocation of space and time that was a result of the technological, cultural and scientific advances of modern life.


Due to his stylistic borrowing from Florentine artists and his relative isolation from the main movements of the period, de Chirico has often been portrayed as an artist whose classicism ran counter to the more formal innovations of the prevailing modernist trends of his time, in particular Futurism and Cubism. Yet it is possible to see his work as arising from the challenge posed by the writings of Nietzsche, whose work shook the system of beliefs that formed the foundations of 19th century realism. Given these influences, it is possible to liken de Chirico's art to a more literary brand of Modernism exemplified by writers such as T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, who responded to the challenge posed by the dissolution of realism by using classical mythology as a template for applying eternal order to the disorientating, vertiginous experience of modernity.