Lot 4
  • 4

Giorgio de Chirico

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
674,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Giorgio de Chirico
  • Gli Archeologi
  • signed g de Chirico (lower right)
  • oil on canvas


Il Collezionista, Milan

Vigorelli collection, Milan

Egisto Marconi, Milan

Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1970s

Catalogue Note

One of an important group of paintings that de Chirico developed in the late 1920s, Gli Archeologi is a striking example of the artist’s return to classicism during this period. Having established himself with his extraordinary Metaphysical paintings of the 1910s, in the November-December 1919 issue of Valori Plastici (a publication that had previously been a platform for the metaphysical artists) de Chirico declared a new allegiance: ‘My own conscience is quite clear, and I am the bearer of three words which I wish to be the seal of all my work: Pictor classicus sum’ (quoted in El siglo de Girogio de Chirico (exhibition catalogue), Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, 2007, p. 526). Aligning himself with the wider artistic ‘return to order’ that prevailed in the post-war period de Chirico began to develop a distinctly new style that would go on to define his paintings of the 1920s and 1930s. This development was widely criticised by the Surrealists who had been so influenced by the curious dream-like quality of his Metaphysical works and now felt betrayed by his return to the seemingly more rational and ordered classical world. However, whilst the works that followed articulated a new direction, they maintained something of both the distinctive visual language that characterised de Chirico’s earlier works and the Metaphysical spirit of existing in their own place and time.

The present work belongs to a series that de Chirico began work on in the latter half of the 1920s. He kept the faceless mannequins of his earlier works but reinvented them in a new guise. Larger and more statuesque, de Chirico presents the figures in pairs, most often seated, and with a profusion of shapes and constructions tumbling from their chests into their laps. De Chirico suggested a source for the distinctive physiognomy of these figures, describing them in terms of statues seen ‘in a Gothic cathedral […] representing seated saints and apostles […] The very short legs – covered by the folds of the garments – and the folds themselves formed a kind of base, an essential foundation suitable for supporting the monumental trunk’ (quoted in ibid., p. 527). The lighter handling of the figures in these later works imbues them with a softer and more human aspect and reflects the influence of the studies of Old Masters that de Chirico had made at the beginning of the 1920s and his subsequent work in tempera. In the present work, this takes on an almost tender character in the arrangement of the figures and their inclination towards one another.

De Chirico places the figures adrift in an undetermined space, juxtaposing the anonymity of the figures and their clutch of antique architecture with the modern sofa on which they are seated. This arrangement was a development in the later works of the series, as Ada Masoero describes: ‘often there was a shift from exteriors to middle-class interiors […] Yet the architecture does not lose its role, though it acquires a new connotation: now the toys and slender arches are joined by ruins and fragments of architecture […] memories of his Greek childhood, but also of his long stays in Rome, and tributes to great history, to the highest tradition on which our culture rests, which, by the presence of these relics from the classical world, assign the title of Gli archeologi to this substantial group of paintings of the late twenties’ (‘“Il ritornante”. De Chirico in the twenties and thirties’, in ibid., p. 527).