National Gallery of Australia acquires major work by Giorgio de Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico 'La Mort d'un esprit [Death of a spirit]' 1916 oil on canvas 36.0 x 33.0 cm National Gallery of Australia Purchased with the assistance of Harold and Bevelly Mitchell, Rupert and Annabel Myer, and the NGA Foundation
Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Mr Ron Radford AM, unveils an exquisite new painting acquisition by the important European Modernist artist Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1979). The painting La Mort d’un esprit [Death of a spirit] dated 1916 is one of the last early de Chirico works of art held within a private collection.
De Chirico is renowned as the inventor and master of Metaphysical painting, a style which had a profound influence on the painters of the Dada and Surrealism movements. De Chirico’s metaphysical paintings consciously exploited the symbolism of his art, featuring stark views of semi abstract figures, harsh light effects and oblique perspective. Imaginative symbolic language—especially human figures meshed with machines, often placed in incongruous settings such as classical or mechanical landscapes — is seminal to modern art.
The painting La Mort d’un esprit [Death of a spirit] 1916, is bold and intriguing for such an early date. The painting of a claustrophobic interior filled with extravagant objects focuses on two French ‘Petit Beurre’ biscuits mounted on a bright orange geometric panel. This panel is flanked by a black disc and surrounded irregularly shaped vivid yellow, red and green forms which crowd uneasily into an ambiguous space. The tense composition and bright, constrained palette animate this small and vigorous painting. The work’s content and execution are appealing, while powerful and dynamic in their effect.
The National Gallery of Australia holds several other works by de Chirico: one lithograph from 1929, two costumes from Le Bal 1929, and eleven costumes from Pulcinella 1932. No similar works are known in Australian collections, the only other painting by de Chirico being a late figurative horse study from 1963 in the Art Gallery of NSW.
Death of a spirit is a major addition to the National Gallery’s collection of key works dating from the early evolution of European Modernism, including Monet’s Waterlilies c.1916, Modigliani’s sculpture Standing nude c.1912, Sonia Delaunay’s Dubonnet1914, Juan Gris’ Checkerboard and playing card 1915 and Kasimir Malevich’s House under construction 1915–16.
Ron Radford, Director of the National Gallery of Australia said "Paintings such as Death of a spirit are of the highest priority to the National Gallery of Australia. This is an exquisite Metaphysical painting, brightly coloured and intriguingly composed and it will surely provoke much interest in our new permanent collection display in the room devoted to Dada and Surrealism. "
"Exemplary early Modernist works of this calibre improve the range and depth of the Gallery’s collection of twentieth-century European art. We have been searching for a painting of this quality for the collection of Modern Art for many years; its acquisition is a great coup for the National Gallery. The last early European Modern painting we acquired was Juan Gris’ Checkerboard and playing cards 1915 acquired in 1993,” said Radford.
Acquisition of De Chirico’s La Mort d’un esprit [Death of a spirit] 1916 is in celebration of the National Gallery of Australia’s 25th Anniversary. The purchase has been made possible by the generous assistance of Mr Harold Mitchell AO and Mrs Bevelly Mitchell, Mr Rupert Myer AM and Mrs Annabel Myer, and the National Gallery of Australia Foundation.