Metaphysical Painting

113 artworks, 17 artists
Metaphysical painting (it.: pittura metafisica) is an art style that arose at the beginning of the 20th century. The Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico invented a new style in 1910. Later, together with like-minded Carlo Carra, they created the Pittura Metafisica — Metaphysical Painting movement. Their fantastic paintings depicted “what is impossible to see”, creating a general feeling of isolation, disturbing reality and mystery.

The work by the German Symbolists Max Klinger and Arnold Böcklin became the basis of aesthetic ideas and practices of de Chirico at the time of his training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. “...Each of his works causes the same embarrassing shock of surprise ... combining the supernaturalness of the Italian landscape with architectural elements,” wrote de Chirico about the works by Böcklin, but, in general, this is how his own paintings can be described. Childhood memories of Greece, where he was born and raised, brought the elements of the classical architecture of the ancient world to the artist’s work.

Developing metaphysical painting as a new art movement, de Chirico turned to the work of philosophers; the works by Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer had the greatest response in the artist’s soul. “...In order to have original, unusual, and possibly even immortal ideas, you need to isolate yourself from the world for just a few moments, so that the most ordinary events seem new and unfamiliar,” wrote de Chirico in 1912. Having moved to Paris in 1911, de Chirico quite soon attracted the attention of leading critics and artists. One of them was Guillaume Apollinaire, who praised de Chirico’s “metaphorical landscapes” and made him famous among the representatives of the avant-garde movement.

De Chirico developed his own iconography: statues, mannequins, fish, mirrors and architectural elements became a kind of glossary of forms, through which the artist communicated with his audience. Turning to the subconscious, the creator of metaphysical painting attracted the attention of modern thinkers and philosophers, including André Breton, the future theorist of the surrealist movement.

With the outbreak of World War I, de Chirico and his younger brother Andrea returned to Italy, where they were enlisted in the army. In 1917, at the military hospital of Ferrara, they met Carlo Carra and Filippo de Pisis. De Chirico and Carra, one of the leading Italian futurist artists, found common themes and soon formed the Metaphysical Painting society. Pictures and essays of the colleagues were published in the Italian art magazine Valori Plastici (Plastic Values), their exhibitions were held in the gallery with the same name in Rome, as well as in Germany. Critics, alas, began to attribute the invention of the style of metaphysical painting to Carlo Carra, who avoided to deny it. This led to a cooling of the relations between the artists at the very moment when the movement attracted the attention of the wider artistic community. Somewhat later, both of them abandoned metaphysical ideas in favour of realism. Nevertheless, paintings by the artists of the Metaphysical Painting movement had a tremendous impact on the nascent surrealist movement, inspiring its leading artists Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, René Magritte and Salvador Dalí.

Significant metaphysical paintings:
“The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon”, Giorgio de Chirico, 1910
“The Song of Love”, Giorgio de Chirico, 1914
The Oval of the Apparition, Carlo Carra, 1918
“Metaphysical Still Life with Triangle”, Giorgio Morandi, 1919

Artists who worked in the style of metaphysical painting: Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Carra, Filippo de Pisis, Alberto Savinio (Andrea de Chirico), Giorgio Morandi, Felice Casorati, Arturo Martini.