PEINTURE MÉTAPHYSIQUE (Metaphysical Painting)
It is Giorgio de Chirico who must be credited with the invention of Metaphysical Painting. It was born in Paris between 1910 and 1915 and was, above all, a reaction against the Futurist dynamism. It revived a longing for antiquity, exalted the dream, discovered the mystery of apparitions. 'Around me', Giorgio de Chirico wrote, 'the international gang of "modern" painters was making a foolish commotion in the midst of worn-out formulae and sterile systems. I alone, in my dismal studio in Montparnasse, was beginning to glimpse the first traces of an art more complete, more profound, more intricate and more metaphysical.' During his stay in Munich, Chirico had read Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Weininger. Otto Weininger had said 'the are of a circle, as an ornament, can be beautiful; it is capable of completion: it still leaves room for imagination'. In Turin, before the eighteenthcentury porticoes and arcades, Chirico must have thought of Weininger. And Schopenhauer had urged his countrymen not to put statues of their famous men on columns or high pedestals, but instead on low stands, 'as it is done in Italy, where marble men seem to be on the level of the passers-by and to walk among them'. Metaphysical painting would be lacking an essential element of its aesthetic doctrine if the 'mannequins' that populated Chirico's canvases were not there. The idea of 'mannequins' was suggested to him by a poem of his brother Alberto, a painter, poet and musician known as Alberto Savinio. The objectives of Metaphysical Painting could not be better described than in this sentence by Chirico himself; 'We who know the signs of the metaphysical alphabet know what joys and sorrows are present in a portico, on a street corner, within the walls of a room, or inside a box'. To Cubism Chirico owed 'at least the suggestion of chromatic composition, which became freer, more rhythmical, more dancing about 1913' ( Giorgio Castelfranco, in Pitturra Moderna).
Although Metaphysical Painting was born in Paris, it was in Italy, at Ferrara, during the First World War, that it became not a movement, like Futurism, but a 'school', which could have adopted the mannequin as an emblem. Chirico and Savinio had been called up and assigned to the Ferrara depot. Chirico Metaphysical Interiors, which were painted in this city, were suggested to him by certain shops in the ghetto, 'in which one could see cakes and biscuits of extremely metaphysical and odd shapes' (vide Chirico). The first to undergo Chirico's influence was the painter Carlo Carrà, who was also an infantry soldier and a former Futurist. With less fantasy, Carrà painted the same objects as Chirico: mannequins, copper fishes, biscuits; he placed them in a three-dimensional space, transporting them from the oleograph that inspired Chirico to the ideal climate of Giotto, for both form and colour. With Carrà objects are no longer metaphysical signs, as in the works of Chirico. For him the painter's imagination must express itself 'through lines and colours', through the relation 'it discovers between light and shadow, the full and the void'. In short, Carrà employed the language of a painter not of a poet, as Chirico did. His paintings exercise a less fascinating but more profound magic than Chirico's, which were to influence the Surrealists (vide Surrealism) so strongly. Alberto Savinio, the theoretician of Metaphysical Painting, maintained that it was 'total representation of spiritual necessities within plastic limits -- power to express the spectral side of things -- irony'. Surprisingly enough, it was Carlo Carrà who fulfilled the third condition, irony, perhaps unconsciously, by clothing the pensive mannequins of Chirico in tunics with folds and putting tennis rackets and balls in their hands (vide Carrà). 'We metaphysical pointers have sanctified reality', contended Chirico. For us the painter who seems to have actually sanctified reality is Giorgio Morandi: 'closing the triangle of Metaphysical Painting', he brought it to its purest expression. With three tones and a few very simple lines, Giorgio Morandi creates mystery, as Chirico himself admitted when he wrote in Valori Plastici, the magazine of Metaphysical art published by Mario Broglio, 'He sees with the eyes of a man who believes; and the inner framework of things that are dead for us, because motionless, appears to him under its most comforting aspect, under its eternal aspect' (vide Morandi). Metaphysical Painting did not survive the First World War, which confrented artists with new problems, but it has proved to be one of the key periods of twentieth-century painting.
Its collapse may be said to be due to overelaboration of design and obscurity of intention. Lines and perspectives multiply in all directions, weird figures stripped of life and sexuality are no more than mannequins. The movement played itself out and was attacked by its own creator, Chirico, who from 1930 onwards has denied his former pictures and has painted in an orthodox style which bears no relation to his earlier experiments; Morandi now prefers the world of Nature.
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