Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)

Cavalli in riva al mare

Details
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Cavalli in riva al mare
signed 'g. de Chirico' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 36 3/8 in. (73.2 x 92.4 cm.)
Painted in 1929
Provenance
Jacques Furst, New York.
Private collection, New York.
Anonymous sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 9 December 1959, lot 76.
Galleria Farsetti, Prato, by 1967.
Galleria Medea, Milan.
Galleria Tega, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1981.
Literature
C. Bruni Sakraischik, Catalogo generale Giorgio de Chirico, opere dal 1908 al 1930, vol. VIII, Milan, 1987, no. 527 (illustrated).
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco & P. Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico, Parigi 1924-1929, Milan, 1982, no. 163, p. 526 (illustrated).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Anne Elisabeth Spittler
Anne Elisabeth Spittler

Lot Essay

Cavalli in riva al mare was executed by Giorgio de Chirico in 1929, during the artist's second Parisian sojourn, when he set out to explore the new themes and compositions which would continue to populate his universe until the very end of his career. The present work, which possibly belonged to Paul Guillaume, is part of a series of horses by the sea in which de Chirico explored ideas of mythology, inscribing onto Antiquity his own sense of Metafisica and myth. On a rocky shore, two horses pose, one white, monumental and sturdy, one red, nervous and dynamic. They roam a land of abandoned Ancient splendour, with a broken column at their feet and a white temple in the distance.

Of Italian origins - both of his parents were Italians - de Chirico spent the first years of his life in Greece, where he was born in 1888. Although at the time he painted Cavalli in riva al mare he was in Paris, memories of Greece and classical mythology still persisted in this work. In their setting, the pair of horses brings to mind the famous steeds of Mythology: Achilles's immortal Balius and Xanthus or the dawn goddess Eos's Phaeton and Lampos. At the same time, choosing to paint horses, de Chirico seems to allow a self-mythologization, evoking perhaps the legendary painter Apelles, who was said to paint horses so realistically that real ones would neigh in recognition. Giorgio de Chirico's brother Alberto Savinio also recalled that the first painting ever exhibited by the artist was indeed a picture of a horse, stressing perhaps the instinctive affinity that linked de Chirico to this subject, rich in symbolic meaning and dynamic visual potential.

The atmosphere emanated by works such as Cavalli in riva al mare revealed itself to be contagious: in the 1940s, Savinio draw form his brother's works to depict a scene of unsettling epic decadence in his own writings: 'When, in the sixteenth year of the reign of Antoninus the philosopher, Pausanias visited Greece, the gods had long been dead. The only voice that remained was that of the sea and the wind. The temples offered the sky their illustrious decay. The drums of columns were scattered on the ground like colossal broken necklaces. Wild horses ran on deserted beaches, they stopped to listen, moved around the crazy bloodshot eye, then raced off at a gallop, frightened by the immense nothingness' (A. Savinio, Narrate, uomini, la vostra storia (vita di Isadora Duncan), Milan, 1942, p. 258, quoted in P. Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico, Betraying the Muse: De Chirico and the Surrealists, New York, 1994, p.170). This passage poetically expresses the contrast of restive natural energy and the atmosphere of timeless abandonment that dominates Cavalli in riva al mare.

In the late 1920s, when Cavalli in riva al mare was painted, de Chirico was actually reading the writings of Pausanias, who in the second century A.D., compiled a cultural geographical description of Greece. This reading probably rekindled de Chirico's relationship with his native country. Its classical source, however, may have also prompted de Chirico to rethink the cultural relevance of myth and of the antique world, traces of which endured in the landscape of modern life. In 'Salve Lutetia', a celebratory text dedicated to Paris in 1925, de Chirico praised the modernity of the city, permeating its charm with the metaphysical power he perceived in the motifs of Antiquity. The silhouette of horses on advertising panels merged with the image of the mythical horse: 'Every wall plastered with posters is a metaphysical surprise; and the gigantic putto of Cadum soap, and the red colt of Poulain chocolate rise up with the disquieting solemnity of divinities from ancient myths' (G. de Chirico, quoted ibid., p. 170). Cavalli in riva al mare not only illustrates de Chirico's renewed enthusiasm for the legendary past of his own land, but also coveys his reinterpretation of the modern world viewed from that perspective: he saw glimpses of antiquity permeating contemporary life.

Cavalli in riva al mare expresses De Chirico's personal take on antiquity and its symbols. In de Chirico's own metaphysical thoughts, the horse came to symbolise a nostalgic sense of depth: 'I still think of the enigma of the horse, in the sense of the marine god: once I envisioned it in the gloom of a temple that rose above the sea; (...) I imagined it made of cut marble as white and pure as a diamond (...) and in its eyes and in the movement of its white neck were to be found the enigma and infinite nostalgia of the deep' (G. de Chirico, quoted in J. de Sanna, ed., De Chirico and the Mediterranean, New York, 1998, p. 246). An avid reader of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical writings, de Chirico may also have perceived a symbolic reminder of the philosopher's destiny in the horse: in 1889, in Piazza Carlo Alberto in Turin, Nietzsche threw himself in front of a whipped horse to defend the creature, subsequently suffering a mental breakdown that would drive him into the abyss of madness. That episode poetically and tragically hints at the flight of genius into insanity, a dichotomy that may be symbolically expressed by the two contrasting horses in Cavalli in riva al mare.

With works such as Cavalli in riva al mare, de Chirico forged his own mythology, as Jean Cocteau enthusiastically recognised: 'Giorgio de Chirico, who was born in Greece, no longer needs to paint Pegasus. A horse by the sea - with its colour, its eyes, its mouth - assumes the importance of the myth' (J. Cocteau, 1928, quoted ibid., p. 247).

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