One of only five paintings made by de Chirico after his move to Ferrara in 1915, Natura morta is a unique and mysterious still-life painting from the height of his early metaphysical period. A deceptively simple and naturalistic-looking painting this work has been noted by both the leading de Chirico scholars, Maurizio Faggiolo dell'Arco and Paolo Baldacci as being an important transitionary painting that announced 'changes that would influence all of de Chirico's subsequent work.' (Paolo Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico: The Metaphysical Period: 1888-1919, London 1997, p. 307)
Executed between September and October 1915,Natura morta was the first painting that de Chirico painted after moving to Ferrara where he and his brother, now enlisted in the Italian army, had been posted. De Chirico and his brother, the painter Alberto Savinio, had both returned to their native Italy in May in order to take advantage of an amnesty granted towards Italian ex-patriots like themselves who had so far managed to avoid the draft. Luckily, as de Chirico recalled in his memoirs of this time, on their arrival in Ferrara, 'a major who worked in the warehouse of my regiment, and who was a bit more intelligent and perceptive than the others, understood my, and my brother's, situation and hired us as bookkeepers. One could at least breathe a bit and live somewhat like a human. Our mother had come to Ferrara and rented a small furnished apartment so we could sleep at home, wash and change bedsheets, eat simple and healthy food, and, in our free time, think a little about those matters of Art and thought that had always been the supreme goal of our lives. (There), I began painting again. (Giorgio de Chirico, The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico, London, 1971, pp. 79-80)
The medieval town of Ferrara was to prove a catalyst for change in the strange, dark and melancholic metaphysical manner of painting that de Chirico had originated in Paris, Indeed, it came to infuse these grand revolutionary works with a new quirky and more personal atmosphere - one that concentrated on seemingly familiar objects rendering and exposing them as bizarre oddities and strange anomalies. This was a tendency that had been growing in de Chirico's work throughout 1914, but it was In Ferrara that the inherent strangeness of the still-life object ultimately gave rise to a new form of metaphysical interior. 'Ferrara itself' de Chirico wrote, 'one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, had struck me; but that which struck me most and inspired the metaphysical vein in which I was then working were certain aspects of Ferrara's interiors, certain shop windows, certain workshops, certain dwellings, certain neighbourhoods like the old ghetto, where one found pastries and biscuits of extremely strange and metaphysical form. To this period belong the so-called "metaphysical interiors".' Giorgio de Chirico, The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico, London, 1971, pp. 79-80)
Natura Morta is a work that seems temporarily to abandon the overt artifice of the metaphysical style that de Chirico had developed in Paris. Its surprising naturalism seems to suggest that it marks a tentative attempt by the artist to ease himself back into the act of painting after the disruptions of the previous months and the beginning of his new life in the military, or, perhaps, more drastically, the beginning of a break with his past. But, despite the apparent classicism of this work's style - one that emulates both that of artistic mentors such as Gustav Courbet as well as anticipating de Chircio's own later stance as an eminently classical artist - this supposedly naturalist painting is heavily imbued with a strange metaphysical atmosphere. Concentrating on a rather ordinary and unspectacular collation of rather misshapen fruit, De Chirico here renders the still-life subject as an oddity. It is reality itself that is here exposed as enigmatic and strange. Each specimen of fruit, whether, pear, grape or apple is carefully scrutinized and rendered in such a way as to emphasize its material density, misshapen form and surface blemishes in such a way that each asserts its manifest oddness and uniqueness. Drenched in a mysterious light and set on a bright white cloth against an empty black void, both of which seem to invoke and recall the strange spaces and enigmatic twilights of de Chirico's metaphysical landscapes, this work seems to form a bridge between de Chirico's Parisian and Ferrarese works - between the metaphysical artichokes, pineapples and bananas of the Paris paintings and the strange-shaped biscuits and impenetrably dark carnivalesque interiors of the paintings which de Chirico would make in Ferrara over the next few years
Shortly after he completed Natura Morta, de Chirico wrote to his Parisian dealer Paul Guillaume, that his military duties and 'the threat of being sent to the front, a threat which hangs constantly over my head, as it does over that of every soldier in these days of the orgy of war, (had made) such circumstances (that) are not exactly favourable to an eminently spiritual activity like my own. All of this notwithstanding, I am working, I assure you: I've made some paintings, and even when I don't have brush or pencil in my hand my thoughts invariably run along the lovely path of art...As for me, I'm relatively happy in beautiful and melancholic Ferrara, where the fatality of life has brought me. For men of fate, even the saddest events, and perhaps these above all, are necessary for the development of the mysterious forces they harbour within them and which then appear in their works; I now feel that my departure from Paris, my distance from the milieu in which I lived, and the apparition of this fatal city in which I presently find myself, are fatally necessary to my creative self.' (Giorgio de Chirico letter to Paul Guillaume, 1 November 1915 cited in Paolo Baldacci, op. cit, p. 300)
Something of the earthy gravity of these sentiments and of the overwhelming sense of both 'fatality' and destiny that de Chirico had already found in Ferrara seems to be conveyed in this dense and deceptively simple still-life.