Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, born Greece, 1888–1978)
Oil and graphite on canvas
53 3/8 x 71 in. (135.6 x 180.3 cm)
Bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn, 1995 (1996.403.10)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome
Born in Greece to Italian parents, Giorgio de Chirico received his first drawing lessons at the Polytechnic Institute in Athens in 1900. In 1906, the family moved to Munich, where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, becoming acquainted with the magic realism of Swiss-German painter Arnold Böcklin and the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who encouraged the artist to "refute reality." At various important junctures in his career, de Chirico lived in Paris (191115, 192532), as well as the United States (193638), but he spent most of his life in Italy. In Ferrara in 1917, he met the artist Carlo Carrà, with whom he articulated a "metaphysical" style of painting in which an illogical reality seemed credible. Although the Metaphysical School was short-lived, its ramifications were felt in subsequent art movements, such as Dada and Surrealism.
This composition presents one of the artist's famous deserted public squares. Somber monolithic arches on the right cast heavy geometric shadows, while on the left is a statue of the sleeping Ariadne. The statue, a Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture of Ariadne asleep on the island of Naxos after being abandoned by Theseus, had great symbolic meaning for de Chirico, perhaps because it evoked the classical past of his native Greece. In a series of five paintings, all from 1912–1913, Ariadne is depicted from various angles, horizontally, vertically, and in partial close-up. Such early paintings, with their magical dreamlike qualities, were greatly admired by the Surrealists.