Giorgio de Chirico

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portrait of De Chirico in 1935

Giorgio de Chirico - in quotes. De Chirico (July 10, 1888November 20, 1978), often known as Népo, was an influential pre-Surrealist Italian painter born in Volos, Greece to a Genovese mother and a Sicilian father. He founded the Scuola metafisica art movement.

Quotes of De Chirico[edit]

chronologically arranged, after date of the quotes of De Chirico

Quotes, 1908 - 1920[edit]

  • What I have created here in Italy is neither very big nor profound (in the old sense of the word), but formidable. This summer I painted paintings that are the most profound that exist in the absolute. Let me explain these things somewhat.. .. profoundness as I understand it, and as Nietzsche intended it, is elsewhere than where it has been searched for until now. – My paintings are small (the biggest is 50 x 70 cm), but each of them is an enigma, each contains a poem, an atmosphere (Stimmung) and a promise that you can not find in other paintings. It brings me immense joy to have painted them – when I exhibit them, possibly in Munich this spring, it will be a revelation for the whole world
  • You misunderstood my words when I said that Michelangelo was a stupid artist.. .Because I have drunk from another source and a new and marvelous thirst burns my lips – how can I still believe in such artists?! I know what you are thinking when you ask me: 'isn't David a superman? This is how I used to feel, this is what I used to think. The majority of the world's great spirits thought it so.. ..but now a new air has entered my soul, a new song has reached my ears and the whole world appears totally changed – the autumn afternoon has arrived, the long shadows, the clear air, the serene sky –, in a word: Zarathustra has arrived, do you understand??.. ..It is only with Nietzsche that I can say I have begun a real life.
  • I exhibited three paintings at the Salon d'Automne exhibition [Paris], which is the most interesting exhibition I have seen until now. Much more interesting than the Secession [in München]. My paintings [two words cancelled] were noticed and praised by the art critics. I think I will be very famous here in a few years time. Reading my name in the newspapers and seeing people notice my paintings and write about them has given me new and strange joy. – Paris is a beautiful city. Why do you remain in the monotony of Munich's heavy atmosphere? Here one can find everything one desires. Everything is refined and has spirit and everyday one learns something new. .The French are more intelligent than I thought. They laugh a lot, but they understand better than the Germans what is refined, strange and outside the ordinary.
  • ..the flat surface of a perfectly calm ocean [which] disturbs us.. ..by all the unknown that is hidden in the depth.
  • ..can you [contemporary painters] ever get close, even vaguely, to the solidity, the transparency, the lyric strength of colour, to the clarity, the mystery, the emotion of any of the paintings of Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Dürer, Holbein or of young Raphael? Friends, have you ever realized that with the oil colours used today this is absolutely impossible?. ..In the museums of Europe I have observed the work of the Flemish painters at length – those earlier, later as well as contemporary to the [brothers] Van Eycks – and I am convinced that the above mentioned brothers were not the discoverers of oil paint in its true sense, as is held today, but that what they did was introduce oil in emulsion with other substances, especially live and fossil resins, into so-called oil tempera emulsion, which was already known in the Flanders, to enable them through the use of veiling to give a greater finish, cleanliness and strength of colour to their painting.
    'These oils which are their tempera' said Vasari, speaking of the Flemish [painters] in his Life of Antonello; and without doubt he was alluding to Flemish oil tempera emulsion, but it is sure, absolutely sure, that.. ..we are dealing with.. ..a tempera based mixture (egg, glue, resin, tempera etc) in which oil was only used as a means of unity and for the finish of the painting.

On Mystery and Creation, Paris 1913[edit]

Quotes from: On Mystery and Creation, Giorgio de Chirico, written in Paris, 1913

  • To become truly immortal a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken it will enter the regions of childhood vision and dream.
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p . 231
  • It is most important that we should rid art of all that it has contained of ‘recognizable material’ to date, all familiar subject matter, all traditional ideas, all popular symbols must be banished forthwith. More important still, we must hold enormous faith in ourselves; it is essential that the revelation we receive, the conception of an image which embraces a certain thing, which has no sense in itself, which has no subject, which means ‘absolutely nothing’ from the logical point of view.. ..should speak so strongly in us, evoke such agony or joy, that we feel compelled to paint.
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p . 232
  • Profound statements must be drawn by the artist from the most secret recesses of his being; there no murmuring torrent, no birdsong, no rustle of leaves can distract him.
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p . 232
  • What I hear is valueless; only what I see is living, and when I close my eyes my vision is even more powerful.
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p . 232
  • Perhaps the most amazing sensation passed on to us by prehistoric man is that of presentiment. It will always continue. We might consider it as an eternal proof of the irrationality of the universe. Original man must have wandered through a world full of uncanny signs. He must have trembled at each step.
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 232
  • I remember one vivid winter’s day at Versailles. Silence and calm reigned supreme,. Everything gazed at me with mysterious, questioning eyes. And then I realized that every corner of the palace, every column, every window possessed a spirit, an impenetrable soul. I looked around at the marble heroes, motionless in the lucid air, beneath the frozen rays of that winter sun which pours down on us 'without love', like perfect song.
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 232
  • The structure of cities, the architecture of houses, squares, gardens, public walks, gateways, railway stations, etc – all these provide us with the basic principles of a great Metaphysical aesthetic.. .We, who live under the sign of the Metaphysical alphabet, we know the joy and sorrows to be found in a gateway, a street corner, a room, on the surface of a table, between the sides of a box…
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 233
    • De Chirico's statement on Metaphysical aesthetic in painting motifs like houses, architecture, railway stations
  • Perfect knowledge of the space an object should occupy in a picture, and of the space that separates one object from another, establishes a new astronomy of things attached to our planet by the magic law of gravity. Canons of the Metaphysical aesthetic lie in the minutely-accurate and precisely-estimated use of surfaces and volumes.. ..We are building in paint a new Metaphysical psychology of things.
    • as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Ghiberti to Gainsborough, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 233
  • A work of art must narrate something that does not appear within its outline. The objects and figures represented in it must likewise poetically tell you of something that is far away from them and also of what their shapes materially hide from us. A certain dog painted by Courbet (French 19th century painter) is like the story of a poetic and romantic hunt. (1919)
    • as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 440
  • Everything has two aspects: the current aspect, which we see nearly always and which ordinary men see, and the ghostly and metaphysical aspect, which only rare individuals may see in moments of clairvoyance and metaphysical abstraction. (1919)
    • as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 440
  • Among the many senses that modern painters have lost, we must number the sense of architecture. The edifice accompanying the human figure, whether alone or in a group, whether in a scene from life or in an historical drama, was a great concern of the ancients. They applied themselves to it with loving and severe spirit, studying and perfecting the laws of perspective. A landscape enclosed in the arch of a portico or in the square or rectangle of a window acquires a greater metaphysical value, because it is solidified and isolated from the surrounding space. Architecture completes nature. (1920)
    • as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, pp. 440-441

Quotes, 1921 and later[edit]

  • Dear Mr. Rosenberg [art-dealer in Paris, then], - Many thanks for your good letters which are a great encouragement to me. I assure you that you are the man who has encouraged me the most so far. Please excuse the tone of declaration. I will also show my gratitude when I am in Paris by doing a good life-size portrait of you, or of a member of your family if you prefer, and I would like you to accept it as a gift. I intend to be in Paris around 15 November. My mother and my brother send their best wishes. - Mr. Rosenberg, please accept my devotion, esteem and gratitude.
  • Dear Mr. Rosenberg - I was very surprised this morning that you refused to give me 2,000 fr. especially given that I had told you that my wife was gravely ill in Berlin and that I needed to leave immediately. You probably thought it was a tale I was telling you in order to shave some money off the sum that you owe me; to prove to you that this is not the case, I enclose with this letter a telegram that I received this morning. Strong though the crisis may be and as strongly as you may have applied the brakes, it is not possible that you are not able to find 1,000 fr. for a painter with whom you have done business for six years now and who (I dare hope) enjoys all your esteem; especially given that the said painter tells you that his wife is seriously ill and that he needs to leave.
    I should tell you that in general the way you act in these times of crises is not particularly heroic.
  • Painting is the magic art, the fire set alight on the windows of the rich dwelling, as on those of the humble hovel, from the last rays of the setting sun, it is the long mark, the humid mark, the fluent and still mark that the dying wave etches on the hot sand, it is the darting of the immortal lizard on the rock burnt by the midday heat, it is the rainbow of conciliation, on sad May afternoons, after the storm has passed, down there, making a dark backdrop to the almond trees in flower, to the gardens with their washed colours, to the ploughmen's huts, smiling and tranquil, it is the livid cloud chased by the vehement blowing of Aeolus enraged, it is the nebulous disk of the fleeting moon behind the ripped-open funereal curtain of a disturbed sky in the deep of night, it is the blood of the bull stabbed in the arena, of the warrior fallen in the heat of battle, of Adonis' immaculate thigh wounded by the obstinate boar's curved tusk, it is the sail swollen with the winds of distant seas, it is the centuries-old tree browned in the autumn..
  • ..I will endeavour to make clear to men of good will what the word 'material' means with regard to painting and that, without the material substance of paint, a painting is not a work of art but merely a decorative object, or rather, if it deals with an invented painting, the value of the image resides in its spiritual content.
    In order to be a work of art, a painting must be very well painted and the good quality of the paint depends completely on the material substance of the paint with which it is executed. This matter, which constitutes the substance of painting, is composed of two elements which are equally important and absolutely inseparable: physical substance and metaphysical substance. These two elements complete each other reciprocally and when they are of a superior quality, create a masterpiece by way of their absolute harmony.
  • We must also point out that it is precisely the metaphysical element of painting that provokes the creation of a physical substance that corresponds to its necessities, a material that permits the metaphysical element to manifest itself in the painted form it desires.

Quotes about De Chirico[edit]

  • Apollinaire asserted that Chirico's first paintings were done under the influence of kinesthetic disorders (migraines, colic, etc.)
    • Quote of André Breton, in the First Manifesto of Surrealism - 1924; The Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism, reprinted in Marguerite Bonnet, ed. (1988). Oeuvres complètes, 1:328. Paris: Éditions Gallimard
  • De Chirico found himself in 1912 confronted with the problem of following one of the roads already opened or of opening a new road. He avoided Fauvism as well as Cubism and introduced what could be called 'metaphysical painting'. Instead of exploiting the coming medium of abstraction, he organized on his canvases the meeting of elements which could only meet in a 'metaphysical world'. These elements, painted in the minutest technique, were 'exposed' on a horizontal plane in orthodox perspective. This technique, in opposition to the Cubist or the purely abstract formula in full bloom at the moment, protected de Chirico’s position and allowed him to lay down the foundation of what was to become Surrealism ten years later.
    • Quote of Marcel Duchamp, in: 'Appreciations of other artists': Giorgio de Chirico (painter, writer, illustrator) 1943, by Marcel Duchamp; as quoted in Catalog, Collection of the Societé Anonyme, eds. Michel Sanouillet / Elmer Peterson, London 1975, pp. 143- 159

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