Giorgio de Chirico: How the Godfather of Surrealism Crafted His Mysterious Cityscapes

Two works by Giorgio De Chirico on view in “Deja-vu? The Art of Repetition From Dürer to YouTube,” 2012, at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Germany.ULI DECK/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

What can an empty town square tell us about the human condition? Giorgio de Chirico considered that question with his mysterious works produced between 1911 and 1917. They were unlike anything else being made in Europe at the time, resembling nothing like the haughty abstractions then being produced by Cubists Paris or the colorful experiments with motion being made by the Futurists in Italy.

De Chirico’s work from this era was termed “Metaphysical Painting” by the French poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire, and it would become fundamental to the development of Surrealism for the way his enigmatic scenes seemed less concerned with presenting any kind of reality than they were with offering up dream-like scenarios that were at once disorienting and confounding, sinister and sly, heartbreaking and solitary.

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