Mobili nella valle (Furniture in the Valley) was painted at the height of de Chirico's second sojourn in Paris during the1920s. Painted in 1928, it is a large and important example from the long series of works entitled Mobili nella valle that de Chirico almost obsessively painted at this time. Depicting a disparate conglomeration of household furniture set on a stage in an ancient landscape, as if they are the mysterious protagonists of some unknown classical drama, the painting evokes an enigma that lies at the heart of De Chirico's metaphysical art.
After having rejected the sombre melancholy of his first great metaphysical period at the end of the Great War in 1918, de Chirico had turned towards Old Master painting and subsequently, along with Picasso and many other avant-garde artists, towards classicism. Populating his art at this time are faceless stone philosophers, poets and metaphysicians rooted to the spot inside empty wooden rooms, convoluted assembled ruins of classical architecture, claustrophobic gladiators, and wild horses roaming freely through the ruined landscapes of a by-gone classical empire. All of these paintings evoke a sense of loss and memory displaying scenes in which the glory and grandeur of the past has been interwoven with the mundane and often comic domesticity of the present. As de Chirico himself recalled, into this atmosphere, the Mobile nella valle series suggested itself powerfully to his imagination after a walk around the streets of Paris. Like the Surrealists, with whom at this time he was still closely associating, it was on the streets of the French capital in 1927, in its junk shops and flea markets, where occasionally an umbrella could still be found in a chance encounter with a sewing machine, that such a miraculous encounter and revelation was to force itself upon de Chirico. 'My series of paintings called Mobili nella valle', de Chirico recalled, 'was engendered by an idea that came to me one afternoon in Paris, as I was walking around Saint Germain between Rue du Dragon and Rue du Vieux Colombier. On the pavement in front of a used furniture shop I saw sofas, chairs, wardrobes, tables and a coat rack displayed there on the street. By finding themselves so removed from the sacred place in which man has always sought repose, the place that each of us calls home, these objects - the mere sight of which arouses feelings and sentiments that delve back to our deepest childhood - suddenly appeared solemn, tragic, even mysterious. I immediately understood how I could take advantage of this vision, and I began painting furniture and the corners of rooms, but set in the middle of vast and deserted Nature' (Giorgio de Chirico cited in J. Ashbery, Hebdomeros, a novel by Giorgio de Chirico, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1992, pp. 249-50).
As he recalled elsewhere, the striking appearance of homely pieces of furniture divorced from their usual setting and isolated in the open air brought back memories for him of his childhood in Greece. De Chirico remembered spending many nights out in the open when an earthquake was feared and it was also a practice at such times to place household furniture and valuables out in the open. Recognising the power of such everyday objects displaced from their normal setting to evoke such memory and powerful feelings of the uncanny, de Chirico began to use these familiar objects as actors in his painted classical dramas. In this Mobile nella valle from 1928, de Chirico has set such objects as a white fence, an armchair, a chest and a bedstead on a wooden stage-like platform and juxtaposed this strange family of seemingly familiar objects against the grandeur and mystery of a landscape filled with classical ruins. The effect of this establishes a surreal sense of mystery and enigma that undermines any cohesive sense of space and time within the painting. In an article he wrote at the time, de Chirico sought to expand on this effect by recalling the precise nature of the revelation that his first encounter with the furniture on the Parisian street had awoken in him. 'The furniture appears to us in a new light,' he wrote, 'the pieces are dressed with a strange solitude; a great intimacy is born between them, and one could say that a strange happiness floats in this narrow space that they occupy on the pavement, in the midst of the ardent life of the city and the hasty comings-and-goings of men; an immense and strange happiness emerges from this blessed and mysterious island. If a passerby were there suddenly panic-stricken by an indescribable terror, like Orestes pursued by the Furies, or a dethroned tyrant chased by an irresistible anger of people in revolt, and frantically fleeing before the danger, were to look for refuge on this island formed by the furniture exhibited there on the pavement, and sink into an armchair in their midst, he would suddenly find himself safe from all the persecutions of god and men' (op. cit. pp. 245-6).
After conjuring this extraordinarily vivid impression of the power of these elements to evoke passionate emotion, de Chirico continues with a precise description of his idea for a painting - an idea that would ultimately be realised in this work, painted not long after he wrote these words.
'Also very profound is the impression one would have of furniture placed in deserted lands, in the midst of infinite nature. Imagine an armchair, a divan, chairs grouped together on a plain in Greece, deserted and covered by ruins. Pieces of furniture abandoned in the wild are innocence, tenderness, sweetness amidst blind and destructive forces armoured with innocence they stand there, distant and solitary. For some time I have been obsessed by this aspect furniture has when placed outside of buildings; in some of my recent pictures, I have sought to express the emotion it inspires in me' (ibid pp. 245-6).