Thursday, 9 December 2010

Bite 8: Giorgio de Chirico - Melancholy and Mystery of a Street, 1914

Melancholy and Mystery of a Street, 1914, oil on canvas, 88 x 72 cm
Here a desolate street has been captured bathed in that particular kind of afternoon sun in Autumn when all appears as if in limbo. It is not yet sunset, but it is clear the day will soon end. Long shadows accentuate every texture and movement. The ethereal light seems almost tangible, giving the world the appearance of a dream, and in the dark shadows night has already come.

In this eerie space something profound has or will take place, but we are not privy to that scene. This is an empty stage. We are shown the street soon after or just before an unseen dramatic event. The threatening shadow of a statue, out of sight, draws towards it a girl - also appearing as little more than an emanation. The box on wheels, with its shadowy interior, seems to indicate entrapment, further emphasising the sense of impending tragedy.

The imposing facade of a dark building dominates the foreground while an extended white wall on the left gives the illusion of depth, an exaggerated perspective foreshortening the vanishing point, creating an ominous sense of unreality, of sur-reality through spacial distortion. Each arch seems as if an eye, silently staring into the claustrophobic space. As De Chirico explains visiting Versailles, "Everything gazed at me with mysterious, questioning eyes. And then I realised that every corner of the palace, every column, every window possessed a spirit, an impenetrable soul."

In this unsettling, haunting work, Giorgio De Chirico, a founder of the Pittura Metafisica (Metaphysical Painting) style, a forerunner to Surrealism, presents the very concept of the street as it being dense in history and in possibility, in melancholy and in mystery. Any banal empty street, in this light, could be seen as sinister and yet disturbingly beautiful.

Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New, Thames & Hudson, 1991. 
30, 000 Years of Art Phaidon, 2007.
Art of the 20th Century, Taschen, 2005.