What is Metarealism ?

          In July 1911, a young Italian artist named Giorgio de Chirico made his way to Paris, to seek his fame and fortune. During the next eight years, he was to become one of the most influential painters of the Twentieth Century. His art, which was later called "Metaphysical", was to profoundly influence Magic Realism, Surrealism, and  Fantastic Realists for many generations to come.

         The young de Chirico, born in Greece, moved to Munich in 1906, where he studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts. There he studied the philosophies of both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. He was initially attracted to the paintings of Arnold Boecklin. In 1908 he moved with his family to Italy where he found the inspiration for many of his early paintings in the piazzas of Florence, Turin and other Italian cities. Called the "Enigma" series, these paintings portrayed dreamlike, moody and mysterious cityscapes.

        Metaphysics in the traditional sense referred to man's understanding of his existence and the nature of physical and mental being. However, de Chirico's concept of Metaphysical art came from Nietzche, who saw the mystery of life emanating from everyday objects. The role of the artist was therefore to portray the natural chaotic or even nonsensical reality of the world. De Chirico referred to this as an ironic form of the Metaphysical. Rather than exploring the perceptible or natural aspects of objects, de Chirico's work presents the phenomenal, the cryptic and the mysterious.

         There were three phases in the development of de Chirico's art. The initial "Enigma" paintings (also called Piazza d'Italia series) included trains, ships, clocks and statues, a highly metaphoric iconography. Gradually less obvious objects, such as  mannequins, boxes, frames, and even gloves, were incorporated into his compositions in an intermediate phase. Finally, during his military assignment in Ferrara in 1917, de Chirico formed Pittura Metafisica with Carlo Carra. Paintings of this period were typically claustrophobic interiors filled with arcane objects, many of them found in and around medieval Ferrara. Other artists who became closely involved with de Chirico and Carra during this period were Giorgio Morandi, Mario Sironi and Fillipo de Pisis.

         De Chirico's original vision was to fuse ancient myth with modern pictorial techniques. Yet around 1920 he became interested in the "Return-to-Order" trend that was sweeping through Europe. He studied the Old Masters and attempted to reinvent himself as a classical painter. During the rest of his career, he alternated between the academic and Metaphysical approaches.

         Metaphysical art refers to a type of art that captures the mysterious in life. It is less about specific content, more about creating a mood. De Chirico compared his approach to one of poetics as compared with prose (narrative art). A number of artists during the twentieth century have been inspired in the same way. Each was interested in exploring deep emotional reservoirs within all of us. As a group they may be called Metarealists. Each used an individual pictorial style derived from Realism, but then adapted to the individual artist's Weltanschauunge (worldview). Metarealism may be used to refer to many types of art after 1920 which were influenced by de Chirico.

         In addition to those artists associated with de Chirico in Ferrara, a number of Post World War I artists were influenced by his Metaphysical art. Notably, the early works of Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali derive their enigmatical tones from seeing de Chirico's work. Each became an important figure within the Surrealist movement. Dali's work, in particular, adapted an atmosphere from early de Chirico. Work by many other artists between the wars was informed by de Chirico's approach. The compositions of Pierre Roy in France and Edward Wadsworth in England show direct influence from de Chirico. Also, de Chirico's brother, Alberto Savinio, began painting in the mid 1920s, contributing fresh, invigorated Metaphysical visions.

         Edward Hopper's art may be considered to be related to Metarealism. His paintings capture the feelings of loneliness of the Depression era. Early in his career, he was effected by his studies in Europe prior to World War I, but he soon developed his own unique style and an American outlook. His work shares with de Chirico the economical rendering of forms and the use of strong, sometimes theatrical lighting. But more importantly his work shares the brooding mood with the early Metaphysical art, in particular by using de Chirico's major themes of mystery and melancholy.

      Although he is often referred to as a Surrealist, Paul Delvaux avoided direct associations with the movement and remained an outsider during most of his career. He thought of himself as a Classicist. Exposed to the art of de Chirico in the mid 1930s, he was profoundly influenced. His paintings might be considered as elaborate mise en scène, with the actors and actresses (often nude) participating in dreamlike plays. Delvaux had a long and productive career, during which his art evolved but maintained a relatively small number of themes, mostly based in his experiences as a child and young adult .

      Kay Sage, who is usually identified with Surrealism, was greatly influenced by de Chirico. Her fanciful landscapes are wistful and highly evocative. The work of her husband, Yves Tanguy, referred to as biomorphic non-representation surrealism, has the mood of Metarealism. Tanguy, who had no formal training as a painter, became inspired when he saw a painting by de Chirico during a visit to Paris in 1922.

         Contemporary artist Claude Lazar explores the somber side of the city of Paris. He studied cinematic art after graduating from Fine Art school, but returned to easel painting a few years later. His work is full of dramatic light and shadow, which is reminiscent of the era of Film Noir. His art also has the feel of the French Realism of the 1930s and 40s, including Balthus, but its strongest influences come directly from Edward Hopper.

        Metarealism might not be considered as a formal art movement, but at the very least, it is a significant artistic current. It's roots go back to the Renaissance. Elements of the enigmatic and the moody can be found in the art of Da Vinci and of Giorgione, in Goya, in the landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, and in many works influenced by Symbolism. But it was de Chirico who brought it center stage in the world of modern art.

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