Filippo Luigi de Pisis (1896-1958)
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Filippo Luigi de Pisis (1896-1958)

Natura morta marina con conchiglie

Filippo Luigi de Pisis (1896-1958)
Natura morta marina con conchiglie
signed and dated 'de Pisis 27' (lower right)
oil on canvas
19 x 22½in. (48.2 x 57cm.)
Painted in 1927
Costantini Collection, Rome.
G. Briganti, De Pisis, Catalogo generale. Opere 1908-1938, vol. I, Milan 1991, no. 1927-1 (illustrated, p. 134).
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Natura morta Italiana: Italian Still Life Painting from Four Centuries, June-October 1994, no. 52 (illustrated, p. 119).
Campione d'Italia, Galleria Civica, Filippo de Pisis, Nature morte, Aprile-Maggio 1996, pp. 52-53.
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Lot Essay

Painted in 1927, Natura morta marina con conchiglie presents the viewer with an everyday scene. Yet in depicting these two shells in such great scale, dominating the canvas, Filippo de Pisis has lent them a strange monumentality, presenting them from a unique perspective. These vigorously-painted shells, recalling the assortment of objects that had littered the Wunderkammer-like bedroom of his youth in Ferrara, are the clear focus of the painting. The background, an eerily barren view of a beach, introduces an atmosphere, in part invoked through its reduced horizontality, that recalls the Romantic landscape painters of the Nineteenth Century, while its expressionistic execution adds a sense of spontaneity that balances intriguingly with the timelessness and stillness of the scene. Against that background, the shells channel the strange atmosphere so vital to the greatest of the artists associated with Pittura Metafisica.

De Pisis had known several of the artists related to that loose association of artists since 1916. It was then, in Ferrara, when he was only 20 years old, that he came to know Giorgio de Chirico and his brother Alberto Savinio, as well as Carlo Carrà. It was also in 1916 that he began a correspondence that would last some years with the notorious Dadaist and proto-Surrealist Tristan Tzara. Thus he was in constant contact with many protagonists of the avant-garde even during his university years. Intriguingly, for much of that early period, he had focussed on literature, while also drawing. This interest in letters resulted in his becoming a formidable intellectual advocate of the Pittura Metafisica, involving himself in many publications including Valori Plastici. During the early 1920s, though, he turned increasingly to painting, channelling the pictorial skills that he had already honed through decades of drawing. By the time Natura morta marina con conchiglie was painted, he was living in Paris, in constant contact with both Italian and international artistic pioneers. He was in the midst of an intensely creative circle, and both gained momentum and recognition for the sparse, poetic paintings such as Natura morta marina con conchiglie that he created during this period. This was reflected when, for an exhibition held only the year before this picture was painted, his friend de Chirico wrote for the catalogue words which clearly apply to the strange, haunting, magical atmosphere in this picture of everyday objects:

'Filippo De Pisis is not a naïf. He knows exactly what he is doing. Irony and astonishment mingle in him to form a very subtle lyricism... A sharp observer, gifted with an exceptional talent, the temperament of a painter and of a colourist, he knows the wonderful secret of showing us the most common things in the most curious atmosphere' (De Chirico, quoted in G. Briganti, De Pisis: Catalogo generale, tomo secondo: Opere 1939-1953, Milan, 1991, p. 841).

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