Ettore e Andromaca draws on the iconography of the metaphysical paintings for which de Chirico is best known. Monumental in scale and with bold colouring, the present work reveals the immense effect that de Chirico's early works would have upon the course of Surrealist art. The subject of this work is taken from Homer's The Iliad, which De Chirico transformed into a meditation on love and war in the early 20th century. The artist began a small group of oils on this subject during the First World War and continued the series into the 1920s. According to the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, the artist completed the present work in the second half of the 1920s.
After seeing the present work over 65 years ago, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, told his colleague James Thrall Soby that it was 'by far the most powerful of all Chirico's versions of this theme' (James Thrall Soby, op. cit., 1941, p. 72). Since then, it has come to be regarded as one of de Chirico's most successful metaphysical compositions. Writing at the closing of the 20th century, Paolo Baldacci considered de Chirico's rendering of Ettore e Andromaca to be among the artist's 'greatest masterpieces because it 'exercised a profound influence on all of European art' (Paolo Baldacci, op. cit., p. 372).
De Chirico painted the current work as part of a small group of oil paintings on this subject during the First World War and continued into the 1920s, including ll vaticinatore (fig. 1). In his discussion of Ettore e Andromaca, Paolo Baldacci wrote: '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 1914-15' (ibid., p. 372). In Ettore e Andromaca, the inanimate beings are the personification of two lovers of Homer's great epic, The Iliad. The scene depicted here is the last meeting between the Trojan warrior Hector and his wife Andromeda before he departs for his final, ill-fated battle. This poignant last moment between two lovers during wartime held great meaning at the end of the First World War.
The term 'metaphysical' had first been given to de Chirico's paintings in 1914 by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and referred to the enigmatic quality of his urban landscapes. The development of this imagery, comprising architectural and sculptural motifs, city squares and classical figures, presents not only a turning point in his own art, but also laid the foundation for Surrealist iconography, which was to flourish in the following decade. Creating a world of enigma and uncertainty, verging between dream and reality, and depicting a condition which André Breton described as the 'irremediable human anxiety,' de Chirico's metaphysical works had a tremendous influence on the development of Surrealist theories and aesthetics. It was these 'powerful conceptions, so dramatically expressed in his paintings, [that] served as a spiritual point of departure for the Surrealists and provided a direct, significant and substantial contribution to Surrealist art' (Laura Rosenstock, 'De Chirico's Influence on the Surrealists,' in De Chirico, New York, 1980, p. 113).
His paintings from 1914-15 took their inspiration from the spatial distortions of the Cubists and emphasised the deep recesses and angularity of Renaissance or Neo-Classical buildings and the ominously dark shadows that they cast across desolate piazzas. As in Le Duo (fig. 2), the setting for these works was usually a city centre, oddly devoid of any life or populated only by inanimate objects. These uncanny scenes attempted to undermine the perceived realities of the everyday, an objective that drew upon an amalgam of the teachings of the German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schoppenhauer and Otto Weininger. In 1918, the Roman periodical Valori Plastici became the leading proponent of de Chirico's style of painting, calling it Arte Metafisica.
Ettore e Andromaca expands on the aesthetic approach first devised in Paris in 1914-15, but technically it is more refined in its execution and bolder in its spatial manipulations. In comparison to the 1914-15 painting Le Duo, the present work is much more sharply focused on the physical details and angularity of the figures and the complexity of their interaction. This shift in the artist's approach came about towards the end of the war in 1917 when he encountered the Futurist artist Carlo Carrà. The fruitful relationship and strong mutual influence between the two artists are evident in the choice of subject matter and painterly style of Carrà's works from this period, such as L'Ovale delle apparizioni of 1918 (fig. 3). Having firmly established his iconography, which included architecture, classical sculpture, dressmaker's mannequins and other inanimate objects, in the following years De Chirico continued working on his highly stylised compositions. Among his works on the subject of mannequins, he produced his major series that depicted couples such as the present work. This poignant last moment between two lovers during wartime held great meaning at the end of the First World War. Combining the mechanised aesthetic with the metaphysical space in which the scene is taking place, the subject of this work established not only one of the most enduring themes of de Chirico's painting, but also played a crucial role in the development of Modern Art.
Fig. 1, Giorgio de Chirico, Il vaticinatore, circa 1915, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Fig. 2, Giorgio de Chirico, Le Duo, 1914-15, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Fig. 3, Carlo Carrà, L'Ovale delle apparizioni, 1918, oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome
Oil on canvas
Giorgio de Chirico
(possibly) Paris, Galerie de l'Effort Moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Exposition d'œuvres de Giorgio de Chirico, 1925, no. 8
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum (on loan 1965-83)
Marseille, Musée Cantini, Ils collectionnent, premier regard sur les collections privée d'art contemporain, 1985, no. 39
Paris, Didier Imbert Fine Art, Paris capitale des arts, 1989, no. 8
New York, Paolo Baldacci Gallery, Giorgio de Chirico. Betraying the Muse. De Chirico and the Surrealists, 1994, no. 13, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1924)
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Passions privées, 1995-96, no. 2, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1916)
Zurich, Kunsthaus; Munich, Haus der Kunst & Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Arnold Böcklin, Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst. Eine Reise ins Ungewisse, 1997-98, no. 29 (as dating from 1917-24)
Padua, Palazzo Zabarella, De Chirico, 2007, no. 26, illustrated in the catalogue
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Giorgio de Chirico, La Fabrique des rêves, 2009, no. 42, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
90.4 by 60.3cm. 35 5/8 by 23 3/4 in.
James Thrall Soby, The Early Chirico, New York, 1941, discussed p. 72, illustrated pl. 63 (as dating from 1916)
James Thrall Soby, Giorgio de Chirico, New York, 1955, discussed p. 120, illustrated p. 232 (as dating from 1916)
Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco & Paolo Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico, Parigi 1924-1929, Milan, 1982, no. 2, illustrated p. 479 & 158 (as dating from 1924-25)
Paolo Baldacci, De Chirico 1888-1919. La metafisica, Milan, 1997, no. A8, illustrated p. 420 (as dating from winter 1924)
De Chirico gli anni Trenta (exhibition catalogue), Galleria Dello Scudo, Verona, 1998-99, illustrated p. 144 (as dating from 1924-25)
René Berger, Paris (commissioned from the artist)
Comtesse Félix de Clinchamp, Paris (by descent from the above)
Juan Alvarez de Toledo, Paris (acquired from the above in 1983)
Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière, Paris
Private Collection (acquired from the above. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 4th November 2009, lot 56)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
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