Born in Greece in 1888, Giorgio de Chirico was an Italian painter and the founder of the Metaphysical painting movement along with painter Carlo Carrà. His parents were supportive of his artistic inclinations, and he completed formal training in painting in Athens and Florence. When his family relocated to Munich in 1906 after his father’s death, he continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts where he discovered Symbolism, and – in conjunction with his studies of German philosophy – he began to develop a distinctly Surrealist style.
In 1909 de Chirico spent six months in Italy, and by 1910 he moved to Florence where he painted his first of the Metaphysical Town Square series. His early works, painted between 1909-1919, illustrate his preoccupation with cerebral themes – eerie piazzas, uncanny figuration, and architectural views articulated through a melancholic colour scheme.
In a manuscript of 1909, he wrote of the "host of strange, unknown and solitary things that can be translated into painting ... What is required above all is a pronounced sensitivity." Metaphysical art combined everyday reality with mythology and evoked of nostalgia, tense expectation, and estrangement.
He moved to Paris in 1911, where through his brother he was introduced to Pierre Laprade, a member of the jury at the famed Salon d’Automne. He exhibited three works there and, in 1913, he also exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants and caught the eye of Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire.
In 1915 he returned to Italy and enlisted in the army. Considered unfit for work, he was stationed at the hospital in Ferrara. He continued to paint during his army years and was influenced by his surroundings. He began depicting incongruous objects and settings and increased the number of subjects in his canvases. He met Carlo Carrà during this time, with whom he developed a new artistic style they named Metaphysical painting—a style that was ominous in tone, and with seemingly mysterious subjects. The term “metaphysical” references the apparent mystery in these works, as the full scope of the narrative is never quite visible.
In 1919 he published “The Return of Craftsmanship” which promoted a return to traditional artistic methods, an abrupt change to his artistic style, his paintings markedly more conservative. He became part of the post-war return to order and outspoken opponent of modern art. He went so far as to renounce and condemn many of his early works.
However, in the 1920s, André Breton discovered one of de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings in Apollinaire’s Paris gallery and was captivated. Many young artists who became the core of the Surrealist movement were equally inspired by his imagery. In 1924, de Chirico visited Paris and was welcomed into the group. However, the Surrealists were increasingly critical of his post-metaphysical works and de Chirico left the group just two years later.
In the 1930s, de Chirico and his second wife travelled to Italy, the USA before settling in Rome in 1944. Around this time, he developed a neo-Baroque style. He remained prolific until his death in 1978, aged 90, but he never received the same acclaim as did his metaphysical works, he resented this.