Lot 388
  • 388

GIORGIO DE CHIRICO | Le Muse inquietanti

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Giorgio de Chirico
  • Le Muse inquietanti
  • Signed G de Chirico (lower left); signed giorgio de Chirico and inscribed Questa pittura metafisica: "Le Muse inquietanti," è opera autentica da me eseguita e firmata. (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 35 3/4 by 27 3/4 in.
  • 90.8 by 70.5 cm
  • Painted circa 1950-55.


Contemporary Art Gallery, New York
Jan Woodner, New York
Sale: Christie's, New York, May 8, 1991, lot 47
Robert C. Guccione, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Nancy Whyte Fine Arts, New York
Acquired from the above in 2004


Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, From Botticelli to Matisse, Masterpieces of the Guccione Collection, 1994, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue


Claudio Bruni Sakraischik, Catalogo Generale Giorgio de Chirico, volume quarto, opere dal 1951 al 1972, Milan, 1974, no. 489, illustrated n.p. (dated 1955)
Claudio Bruni Sakraischik, Catalogo Generale, Giorgio de Chirico, terzo volume, opere dal 1931 al 1950, Milan, 1973, no. 287, illustrated n.p. (dated 1950)


The canvas is not lined. The canvas is slightly buckling in the upper right corner. There is some minor frame abrasion along all four edges. There are parallel horizontal stretcher bar marks running across the canvas. There is a pindot sized area of indentation in the upper right corner with some associated fine lines of craquelure. Under UV inspection, there is some retouching to a one inch area of abrasion in the lower left quadrant. There are a few nailhead sized strokes of inpainting in the foreground, close to the center of the bottom edge. There are a few strokes of inpainting in the upper right corner. The work is in overall very good condition.
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.

Catalogue Note

Le Muse inquietanti is an image of immense power, saturated with many of de Chirico's most important and celebrated themes: melancholy, absence, time, nostalgia, memory and the enigma of existence. It also features many of the key elements of the artist's metaphysical iconography, among them the piazza, the mannequin, the architecture of Ferrara, the classical statue, the chimney, the shadow and the tangible atmosphere of disquiet that pervades all of the artist’s most successful works. First conceived in 1917 and reinterpreted again in 1925, the imagery of the present work continued to haunt and obsess the artist throughout the many decades of his career. Such was the importance and 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 during his New Metaphysical period, its unresolved mystery as unsettling more than thirty years later.

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 mannequin's body, as well as in the overarching sense of grandeur and theatricality of the scene. The mannequins, the unsettling muses of the title, exemplify de Chirico’s blurring between reality and memory, a hybrid of modest Italian shop-window model and majestic sculpture. Thrall Soby described their 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 oeuvre. Everything is still and quiet, and the only sign of movement may be found in the flags 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 looming mannequins and their exaggerated shadows. The distortion of perspectival lines adds to the stage-set feel of this theatrical image, contributing to feelings of vertigo and claustrophobia, in contrast to the reassuring illusion of receding space usually found in cinquecento linear perspective. The bold palette and overstated contrasts add to the dreamlike character of the work. 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, recognizable Italian monuments and commonplace dummies. As de Chirico himself proclaimed at the bottom of his first known self portrait in 1911: “What shall I love if not the enigma?”