Lot 3
  • 3

Giorgio de Chirico

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Giorgio de Chirico
  • Le muse inquietanti
  • signed and dated 1945
  • oil on canvas
  • 87 by 60cm.; 34 1/4 by 22 3/4 in.


Galleria Gissi, Turin
Galleria Nuova Gissi, Turin
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998

Catalogue Note

Le muse inquietantiis an image of immense power, saturated with many of the artist’s most important and celebrated themes, of melancholy, absence, time, nostalgia, memory, and of the inexhaustible enigma of existence. It also features many of the key elements of de Chirico’s metaphysical  iconography, among them the piazza, the mannequin, the architecture of Ferrara, the classical statue, the chimney, the shadow, not forgetting that near tangible atmosphere of disquiet that pervades all of the artist’s most successful works. It was an image first conceived in 1917 and reinterpreted again in 1925, but one that continued to haunt and obsess the artist throughout the many decades of his illustrious career and he returned to it often. Such was the importance and startling originality of this unsettling vision that James Thrall Soby described the first version as ‘possibly the greatest painting of de Chirico’s entire career’. The present work marks the artist’s return to the image in what is now known as his New Metaphysical period, its impact and unresolved mystery still just as unsettling more than forty years on.

Nothing in de Chirico’s painting is fortuitous, and every element that inhabits his dreamscapes is chosen for the particular memory or profound resonance it evoked in the artist. De Chirico’s pictorial world is one of revelation, of finding surprise or new meaning in the quotidian: from the everyday emerges myth. His displacement of familiar objects disorientates the viewer, inviting him to reconsider his relationship with them. The scene is expertly choreographed; separately these elements are unremarkable, but the effect of their new context and relationships a revelation. This, of course, is the essential meaning of metaphysical art: to see something and go beyond it, a concept that went on to be of central importance to the Surrealists.

De Chirico’s paintings represent an overlapping of reality and memory, vision and daydream. The Castello Estense in the background tells us we are in Ferrara but the artist’s concept of place is never quite that simple, and the influence of Classical Greece finds its form in the Doric column of the mannequins’ body, as well as the overarching sense of grandeur and theatricality of the scene. The mannequins, the unsettling muses of the title, are the perfect example of de Chirico’s distinctive blurring between reality and memory, a masterful hybrid of modest Italian shop-window model and majestic classical sculpture. Thrall Soby described their startling impact to great effect, remarking upon the way in which ‘they perch like angry phantoms amid the bric-à-brac of de Chirico’s dream world; they are menacing and ferocious, rather than lyrical in conception. Their knob-like heads were probably inspired by those used on clothing store dummies […] they evoke the terror unconsciously associated with automata, or with any effigy which may come inexplicably to life and lumber relentlessly in pursuit of its creators. The seated figure, with its unholy torso and amorphous legs, has a sinister implacable energy; one feels that it will presently rise to a towering height and proclaim a horrendous doom. The figure on the column is also an oracle of disaster, announcing a time of torpor and long waiting in a land of nightmare from which there is no escape’ (James Thrall Soby, The Early de Chirico, New York, 1969, pp. 71-72).

Le muse inquietanti invites the viewer into a cityscape devoid of human life, the theme of absence lying at the heart of de Chirico’s œuvre. Everything is still, everything is quiet, and the only sign of movement is in the tiny yellow flags blustering at the top of the Castello Estense. This silence, and sense of time having been suspended, is enough in itself to unsettle the viewer, and the atmosphere of impending doom is further amplified by the presence of the strange looming mannequins and their exaggerated shadows echoing Yves Tanguy's melting forms such as in Through Birds, through Fire, but not through Glass, 1943. The distortion of the steep perspectival lines adds to the stage-set feel of this remarkably theatrical image, resulting in a peculiar sense of vertigo and claustrophobia, in contrast to the reassuring illusion of receding space we usually expect from 15th century linear perspective. The bold palette and overstated contrasts add to the dreamlike character of the work. What makes thecomposition particularly unsettling is the alternation between unfamiliar and familiar elements, preventing the viewer from dismissing the scene as mere hallucination. De Chirico confuses us with his disorientating sense of time and place, confronting us with a scene where classical sculpture and medieval architecture exist alongside the chimneys of the industrial revolution, alongside recognisable Italian monuments and commonplace dummies. All these discordant elements meet in a solemn and silent piazza, an unnerving image of anxiety, melancholy and unanswered questions. As de Chirico himself proclaimed at the bottom of his first known self-portrait in 1911: ‘What shall I love if not the enigma?’