Mario Valentino, Naples (acquired from the above in 1983)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Turin, Galleria La Bussola, Giorgio de Chirico ieri e oggi, 1968, no. 2, illustrated in the catalogue
Isabella Far de Chirico & Domenico Porzio (eds.), Conoscere de Chirico. La vita e l'opera dell'inventore della pittura metafisica, Milan, 1979, no. 245, illustrated p. 297
Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco & Paolo Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico, I temi della metafisica, 1985, no. 27, illustrated in colour (as dating from circa 1940)
Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, I Bagni Misteriosi. De Chirico negli anni trenta: Parigi, Italia, New York, Milan, 1991, no. 57, illustrated p. 338
Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Giorgio de Chirico. Gli anni Trenta, Milan, 1995, no. 57, illustrated p. 338
The present work marks De Chirico’s return to this theme several decades later. Having firmly established his iconography, which included architecture, classical sculpture and dressmakers' mannequins, in his later career he continued working on his highly stylised compositions. Discussing the motif of the mannequin - the ultimate symbol in De Chirico’s metaphysical painting - in the compositions from late 1917, Paolo Baldacci observed: ‘The mannequins have reached their definitive, canonical form: they are constructed of stitched fabric, geometrical elements, set-squares and breast-plates, apparently of wood. They are both more fascinating and less "inhuman" than those of 1914-1915’ (P. Baldacci, De Chirico 1888-1919. La metafisica, Milan, 1997, p. 372, translated from Italian).
Having first appeared in De Chirico’s work in 1914, the mannequin figures would undergo various transformations as the artist returned to the subject at the later stages of his career. His use of mannequins was ‘originally inspired by a play written by de Chirico’s brother in which the protagonist is a “man without voice, without eyes or face.” De Chirico himself confirmed this when he wrote: “the idea of these large heads shaped like an egg, which one also sees in my standing mannequins of the metaphysical type, came to me from seeing the maquettes designed by my brother who used the pseudonym Alberto Savino”’ (Elizabeth Cowling & Jennifer Mundy, On Classical Ground (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1990, pp. 81-82).
In his depictions of urban settings, De Chirico took his inspiration from the spatial distortions of the Cubists as well as emphasising the deep recesses and angularity of Renaissance and Neo-Classical buildings. These influences are visible in the present work in the overlapping geometric forms and intersecting lines of perspective. The lines defining the floorboards that spread outwards from the building in the upper half of the composition allude to the linear perspective employed by the Renaissance masters, yet De Chirico subverts their scientific approach to create a destabilising, unsettling sense of space. While the fifteenth-century Florentine masters deployed linear perspective to create an illusion of a deep, rationally ordered space (fig. 2), De Chirico’s art is a subversive interpretation of this painterly technique, and by overturning its logic and order it attempts to communicate the bewildering dislocation of space and time and to undermine the perceived realities of the everyday.
Combining the ordinary with instances of the bizarre, Il vaticinatore is saturated with De Chirico’s distinctive atmosphere of simultaneous nostalgia and premonition. He urges the viewer to consider the tangible and intangible with equal importance and his lifelong exploration of absence explains his fascination with shadows, silhouettes, emptiness and silence, which result in the unique and sometimes suffocating atmosphere of his scenes. In the words of Ardengo Soffici, ‘The painting of de Chirico could be defined as the writing down of dreams. By means of almost infinite rows of arches and facades, of extended straight lines, of gigantic masses of simple colours, of almost funereal darks and lights, he truly succeeds in expressing that sensation of vastness, of solitude, of immobility, of stasis which certain sights reflected by the state of memory sometimes produce in our mind, just at the point of sleep’ (A. Soffici, ‘De Chirico e Savinio’, in Lacerba, 1st July 1914, translated from Italian).
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