Between Bocklin and Picasso: Giorgio de Chirico in Paris, 1909-1913.
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Giorgio de Chirico met Guillaume Apollinaire in 1912, some time around the first appearance of the painter's work at the Salon d'Automne. (1) Although evidence suggests that Apollinaire knew of de Chirico by the time of the exhibition and admired his work, he made no mention of the three paintings on display (The Enigma of the Oracle, 1909 (Figure 1); The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon, 1909 (Figure 2); Self-portrait, 1911) in any of his accounts of the exhibition. (2) Nor did he mention de Chirico in his various reviews of the Salon des Independants in March of 1913, where the painter showed three works, The Melancholy of Departure (3); The Enigma of the Hour, 1910-11; The Enigma of the Arrival and the Afternoon, 1911-12. Instead, Apollinaire was concerned almost exclusively with the various displays of abstract (orphic as Apollinaire dubbed them) works by Francis Picabia, Fernand Leger and especially Roger Delaunay. (4) It was not until October 1913, a full year after the two had met, that the poet made any mention of de Chirico's work. But when he did, it was more than just a passing note:
M. de Chirico has on exhibit in his studio (115, rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs) some thirty canvases whose inner art is consistently interesting. The art of this young painter is an inner, cerebral art which has no connection with that of the painters who have been discovered during the last few years. It does not stem from Matisse or from Picasso; it does not come from the Impressionists. This originality is new enough to warrant our attention. Ordinarily the acute and very modern sensations of M. de Chirico assume an architectural form. One encounters railroad stations adorned with clocks; towers, statues, and large, deserted public squares. Railroad trains pass by on the horizon. Here are some of the peculiar titles chosen for these strangely metaphysical paintings: The Enigma of the Oracle, The Sadness of Departure, The Enigma of the Hour, Solitude, and The Whistling of the Locomotive. (5)
As Willard Bohn has noted, Apollinaire's assessment of de Chirico's work involves the poet's characteristic interests at the moment, interests transposed from his previous endorsement of the "pure paintings" of Picabia, Leger and Delaunay, interests reflected in the words "originality," "new," and "modern." (6) And in almost every subsequent assessment, the terms would remain the same. Over the course of the next five years, de Chirico was mentioned more than a dozen times by Apollinaire and, in almost every case, the terms were the same: "originality," "new," "modern." (7)
But such terms can be misleading, for what, exactly, is "original" in de Chirico's art? In what way is it "new" and "modern"? Surely it is not new and modern in the sense that one would apply these terms to Delaunay's work--work in which the departure from traditional conventions of modeling, color, spatial construction, not to mention iconography, is most emphatic. It is impossible to imagine that Apollinaire was blind to the absence of such devices in de Chirico's work--the way in which de Chirico's construction of an irregular, awkward, but still inhabitable space recalls that of quattrocento painting, the return to the use of local color and traditional methods of modeling the figure. Even the favored images--the arcades, towers, and trains--while certainly unique at the time, nonetheless looked back on the machines and architectural structures of the recent past, unmistakably before the appearance of automobiles and buildings of steel and glass.
If one is unwilling to accuse Apollinaire of bad faith, then I think one has to conclude that what so fascinated the poet was the way in which de Chirico's novelty was in part the result of a certain resistance to novelty, an insistence upon the attempt to hold onto the past, even as it recedes into the distance--a distance made palpable in a work like The Lassitude of the Infinite, 1912 (also on view at 115, rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs), where a white tower and black train appear faintly at the far end of an impossibly deep courtyard, one that seems, despite the indications of the surrounding architecture, to reach back for miles. Perhaps, then, what led the poet to call these works "new," "modern," and "original," was the peculiar way in which they set out to engage, in the moment of present, all that was old, not-modern, unoriginal.
In February of 1914, Apollinaire published "Le Musicien de Saint-Merry." In place of the staccato of the telegraph and the speed of the automobile that had been the hallmark of his previous poetry, "Le Musicien de Saint-Merry" draws the reader back into the melodic sound of Orpheus's flute and the slow procession of the funeral march. The poem opens with the remarks of the narrator who speaks in first person of "the joy of wandering and the pleasure of the wanderer's death." (8) It is against this backdrop of dispersal and loss that the reader is thrust into a precise and singular moment in the present: "May 21, 1913." On this day, in the presence of the "ferryman of the dead," and an accompanying swarm of flies, came "the man with no eyes or nose or ears." (9) He was playing the flute and was followed, as he marched through the streets of Paris, by a long procession of women dressed in black, stretching out "as long as a day without bread." At the end of this long, slow march, he stopped in front of a deserted sixteenth-century house with broken windows; he stepped inside and was followed by the procession of women, all of whom "entered without a backward glance/ Without regretting what they had left/ Or abandoned/ Without regretting the day their life or their memory." (10) The narrator who had been listening to the musician's song and watching the women, entered the house as well, but found it empty. In the end, as night fell, he found himself alone with his memories--memories that he, unlike the women, was unable to let go of: "Oh night/ You my sorrow and my futile waiting/ I hear the dying sound of a distant flute." (11)
It is clearly an autobiographical poem, not only in the sense that it narrates or transposes events in Apollinaire's life at the time, (12) but more substantially, as Phillipe Renaud has pointed out, in the way in which the figure of the musician, the poet of musicality that previously stood at the center of the poetics of Alcools, is now represented in third person, the object of the poet's gaze from outside. (13) The flute player is therefore the figure of the poet himself--as he was in the past. All he can hear now are the dying sounds of an older poetic aesthetic, one abandoned for the new, non-melodic sounds--the chatter, screeches and rumbles--of the modern city. He is a figure that Apollinaire has abandoned, or wishes to abandon, but one from whom he separates himself with a significant regret. He is a figure that, unlike the women who follow him, the poet is unable to let go of without a long backward glance. In a sense then, "Le Musicien de Saint-Merry" is a poem that thematizes the transformation from the late symbolist aesthetic of "Zone" to the avant-gardist aesthetic of "Les Fenetres" and "Lundi Rue Christine." That it is represented in terms of sadness and longing suggests that it was a transformation about which the poet was, at the very least, ambivalent.
"Le Musicien de Saint-Merry" is not the only poem of the sixteen collected in "Ondes," the first section of Calligrammes, to draw attention to this underside of the modern spectacle announced in "Zone" and celebrated in "Lundi Rue Christine." The first poem in the collection, "Liens," sets an ambivalent tone for the poems that follow. For while it begins on a triumphant note ("sons de cloches a travers l'Europe"), it ends more with an unmistakable expression of melancholy:
J'ecris seulement pour vous exalter O sens o sens cheris Ennemis du souvenir Ennemis du desir Ennemis du regret Ennemis des larmes Ennemis de tout ce que j'aime encore
And this very same ambivalence appears again at the end of the collection, with the poem "Il Pleut." Like Apollinaire's more famous "visual poems," "Lettre-Ocean" and "La Cravate et la Montre," both of which appear in this collection, "Il Pleut" joins image and text by presenting the five lines of the poem in a roughly vertical dimension, so that the reader follows the text as if he were following raindrops as they fell to the ground, a soft wind blowing the poem a bit to the right. Reading it, one finds the dead voices of the past juxtaposed with the joys and marvels of the present. ("il pleut des voies de femmes comme si elles etaient mortes meme dans le souvenir/c'est vous aussi qu'il pleut merveilleuses rencontres de ma vie o gouttelettes"). It is a poem that, like "Liens," serves to inflect the rest of the poems (now those that preceded it) with a melancholic sentiment, one that rubs against the grain of works like "Lundi Rue Christine" and "Les Fenetres." And this is to say, as Renaud points out: "The entire first part of Calligrammes seems to be placed under the composite sign of the rupture and persistence of certain links [to the past]." (14) Add to this the fact that "Le Musicien de Saint-Merry" is the eighth of the sixteen poems in the collection, and therefore the center around which the collection turns, and one is forced to consider the aggressive modernity of Calligrammes within the context of a decidedly more ambivalent sentiment.
All three poems--"Le Musicien de Saint-Merry," "Lien" and "Il Pleut"--derive their sentiment of nostalgia from what could be called "melancholic modernism," a modernism that accepts without affirmation the gap between past and present, the loss of the past that functions as one of the preconditions of modernity. As Apollinaire would put it in "Crepuscule," modernity is, at the very moment it is affirmed in all its distinction from the past, "frolee par les ombres des morts," grazed by the shadows of the dead. The past is experienced as a ghost that hovers over the now. It is neither present nor absent. Here we glimpse one of the most significant relations between Apollinaire and de Chirico, a relation that involves the strange resistance of the past, of its uncanny hold over the present, a relation that exhibits not an enthusiasm for all that is new and vital, but rather a melancholy for all that is old and dead--all that is lost to history, inaccessible to the present, but which nevertheless refuses to leave.
Whereas in 1905 Julius Meier-Graefe saw Bocklin's manipulations of Greek mythology as hopelessly theatrical and inauthentic (when held alongside the "objective" art of the impressionists), (15) de Chirico perceived in them a peculiar sort of authenticity, one in which the theatrical, the artificial, spoke to the true conditions of modernity:
When, after having left the Munich Academy, I realized that the road I was following was not the one I should follow and I entered upon tortuous paths, some modern artists, especially Max Klinger and Bocklin, captivated me. I thought of those profoundly felt compositions, having a particular mood [Stimmung] which one recognized among a thousand others ... I meditated a long time. Then I began to have my first revelations. I drew less, I even somewhat forgot how to draw, but every time I did, it was under the drive of necessity. Then I understood certain vague sensations which I had previously been unable to explain. The language that the things of this world sometimes speak; the sensations of the year and the hours of the day. The epochs of history too: prehistory, and the revolutions in thought throughout the ages, modern times--all appeared strange and distant. (16)
What Meier-Graefe read as inauthentic, anachronistic, de Chirico read as thematizing the inauthentic, the anachronistic, and what Meier-Graefe took to be method, de Chirico took to be subject-matter. In this way, Bocklin's work came to appear not false but strange, not outdated but distant. In a later essay, de Chirico amplified his earlier statement, clarifying his account of the painter's work as a depiction of the modern experience of temporal dislocation and subjective confusion:
Every one of his works gives that sense of surprise and unease that one feels when finding oneself confronted with an unknown person, but one whom one seems to have seen before, without being able to remember the time or the place, or when one enters a strange city for the first time, and finds a square, a street, a house in which one seems to have been already. (17)
That which Meier-Graefe took to be derivative, De Chirico took to be uncanny--which is to say, the kind of repetition that is productive, that brings with it a meaning, a sense not carried by the first iteration. (18) The sense of having seen that before, of having already experienced it in the past, was for de Chirico the explicit theme and intentional subject-matter of Bocklin's work. And if this experience of the uncanny repetition demands that one, in a sense, both remember and forget at the same time, then one ought to find in de Chirico's assessment a particular attention paid to this peculiar dynamic of remembering-and-forgetting. In fact it plays a central role in de Chirico's understanding, not only of the subjective conditions of modern experience, but of the objective results as well:
It seems to me that surprise, that sense of disquieting astonishment which certain works of genius provoke in us, is owed to an interruption, albeit momentary, of life--or rather, of the logical rhythm of the universe ... Under the shock of such a surprise, all our senses and cerebral faculties lose track of human logic, of that logic to which we've become accustomed since childhood, or to use another word, they forget, they lose their memory, all life comes to a stop, and in that suspension of the living rhythm of the universe the figures we see before us, without changing material form, offer themselves to our gaze in the guise of ghosts. (19)
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The ghost is that uncanny double of the living being, the object brought back to life by the subjective experience of loss, of the forgetting of that which must be remembered to live.
De Chirico first saw the paintings of Arnold Bocklin some time in late 1906 or early 1907, while a student in Munich. It took only a year and a half for this initial confrontation to make its way into his work. Triton and Siren (1908-09), for example, derives from Bocklin's Triton and Nereid from 1873-74, while both Prometheus (1908-09) (Figure 3) and Sphinx (1908-09) derive from Bocklin's Prometheus from 1882. (Figure 4) (20) In each case, de Chirico has applied to Bocklin's model an identical set of actions, and done so with a consistency that suggests a deliberate attempt, not merely to adopt the original, but to transform it, to make it say something, do something, that it was not intended to say or do.
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What one notices first of all is the way in which de Chirico has drawn Bocklin's figures to the foreground, closer to the picture plane. In Bocklin's version of Triton and Nereid, the two figures sit atop a rock in the middle of the ocean. The rock is set into the middle ground, while the foreground is filled by a narrow strip of sea that serves to distance the mythological scene from the viewer. In de Chirico's version, the two figures (with Nereid replaced by Siren) swim in the open sea. The rock has been removed and the space of the viewer is made continuous with that of the two figures. Where Bocklin's painting sets up a barrier between us (the real) and them (the mythological), de Chirico's painting works, at least formally, to chip away at this barrier.
This attempt to collapse the distance between viewer and viewed is more pronounced in his treatment of Bocklin's Prometheus. As in Triton and Nereid, Prometheus holds the viewer at a distance from the main elements of the scene: a wide strip of water separates us from the distant island, at the top of which Prometheus struggles. De Chirico's Sphinx, although related to Bocklin's Prometheus in its depiction of a mythological figure atop a mountain, works to overcome Bocklin's indicators of distance and division between viewer and viewed, reality and myth. Where the composition of Bocklin's Prometheus serves to translate the temporally delimited world of the present from the timeless realm of myth by way of a spatial gap between near and far, the composition of de Chirico's Sphinx seems designed to collapse this distinction between reality and myth. Here the viewer has crossed the sea and now stands firmly on the island's shore. The sea is still present, now off to the side, a sign of the distance already traversed. Looking up, we see the massive, flat-topped mountain and are free to imagine a difficult, but not impossible, trek to the Sphinx at the top.
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A similar effect is produced by de Chirico's Prometheus. Here the viewer is brought even closer to the mysterious figure at the top of the mountain. Now standing some distance above the shore and on the mountain itself, the viewer seems to have climbed halfway to the top. This visual device suggests that with a little more effort, one could actually reach the summit. De Chirico has left only a tiny sliver of sea on the lower left of the painting: the dim recollection of a distance crossed some time ago. Indeed, this island is now inhabited, dotted with classical buildings imbedded so deeply into the rock they look as if they were always there.
De Chirico's subsequent paintings treat the space between the figures and the viewer with the same sense of continuity. The Battle of the Centaurs (1909) and Dying Centaur (1909) depict these mythological scenes as if they belonged to the same space as we do. Even where his borrowings are less direct, the translation is the same. In Bocklin's Look, The Meadow Laughs! (1887), three musicians stand in the middle ground atop a shallow hill, while the viewer is located beneath them on a dirt path. When adopted by de Chirico in his Serenade (1909), the three musicians are now pulled down to the foreground and address the viewer directly. Here again, Bocklin's insistence upon a gap between viewer and viewed, between past and present, history and mythology, is, in de Chirico's compositions, drawn to a close.
But the most spectacular negation of distance comes in the figure that de Chirico would call the "Oracle," a figure that first appeared in a drawing by his brother Alberto Savinio (1909), and that derives in part from the shrouded figure in Bocklin's most famous painting, The Isle of the Dead (five versions painted between 1880-1886), and in part from a similarly shrouded figure in Bocklin's Ulysses and Calypso (1882). In The Isle of the Dead, the figure appears far in the distance, separated from the viewer by a deep expanse of sea, while in Ulysses and Calypso, Ulysses is placed on a rocky outcropping off the shore, while the viewer stands on the sand. In addition, both figures are painted in near monochrome, as silhouettes, thereby reinforcing the sense of distance and inaccessibility. By contrast, in de Chirico's The Enigma of the Oracle (1909) (Figure 1), the shrouded Ulysses now stands at the edge of (and not at the other side of) a space continuous with that of the viewer. Still painted in monochrome, and still nearly as insubstantial as a silhouette, the oracle nevertheless is linked to our space, within our grasp. Like all of de Chirico's transformations of Bocklin's work, this painting manifests a consistent, programmatic attempt to do away with the experience, central to the Swiss painter's work, of a distance and barrier between the historical and the mythical. As a whole, these works appear as a kind of recuperative effort, an attempt to build a bridge that would establish a direct connection between viewer and viewed. It was an effort that very shortly de Chirico would realize had to be performed in a less direct, more dialectical fashion, in a sense not unlike that of Baudelaire, for whom beauty, debased under modernity, is redeemed in the torn and dirty garments of the mourner.
De Chirico's subsequent paintings extend the painter's efforts to provide access to Bocklin's mythological figures, to bring the realm of myth into that of history and the present. In a work like The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (autumn-winter 1909) (Figure 2), for example, the once-distant body of Ulysses has hardened to stone, inert, but nonetheless material and present in the form of a sculpture that stands within reach, both physical and conceptual. The same process of materialization appears in Autumnal Meditation (1911-12) (Figure 5), where the Ulysses monument stands between two identical Romanesque buildings that frame for the viewer a clear and direct path across the empty square.
In the same year as Autumnal Meditation, de Chirico fashioned out of plaster a small sculpture of the figure of Ariadne. It was the only sculpture he would make before 1939, and he used it as the model and starting point for a series of eight paintings executed between the spring of 1912 and the autumn of 1913. The model depicts Ariadne reclining on her side, one arm wrapped around her head. Abandoned by Theseus on the isle of Naxos, she waits in vain for her love to return. (21)
The series of Ariadne paintings is crucial to our understanding of de Chirico's subsequent work, particularly as it concerns the formal aspects of the works. Scholarly attention to the iconography of Ariadne, as well as the attempt to locate the source material used in creating these works--while useful--has ended up marginalizing the importance of the structure of these paintings. The following account of the eight paintings in the Ariadne series aims, therefore, to address the formal, structural aspects of these works. (22) It is an approach warranted, if not compelled, by the painter's consistent iconography; clearly, in fixing upon the same sculptural representation of the same mythological figure, de Chirico was concerned with the ways in which the viewer's reception of the same subject matter would be affected by changes in composition. Indeed, the greatest impediment to our understanding of de Chirico's work stems from the persistent fixation on the objects painted rather than the manner of painting them. As should be expected, de Chirico's formal devices end up reflecting back on the painter's favorite objects and themes, thereby forcing us to reconsider the iconographic implications of these works as well. Although it is of course banal and obvious to insist upon the interrelationship between form and content, the fact that this has remained almost entirely unexamined in the scholarship on de Chirico makes it necessary to begin again at the beginning.
In The Lassitude of the Infinite (spring 1912) (Figure 6), the first of the eight paintings in the series, Ariadne is set out before the viewer in the foreground of an enormous courtyard. She is bathed in an inviting sunlight and the framing structures are set far from the monument, thereby opening her to the viewer's gaze. The most significant sign of distance, of potential inaccessibility, is the near featurelessness of the figure. Hidden by the shadow of the arm around her, her face is barely discernable and details such as the hands, feet, and torso have been likewise elided. The force of this painting derives, in large measure, from the tension between the access granted by the figure's disposition in space and the access denied by her near featurelessness--that is, in the apparent proximity of the figure and the contrasting signs of unapproachability.
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The following autumn de Chirico returned to the figure of Ariadne, this time drawing not from the model of his own plaster cast, but from the drawings of Ariadne in Salomon Reinach's published line drawings of classical figures. (23) From Reinach's model, de Chirico made seven more paintings of Ariadne, all in the same melancholic pose, waiting in vain for Theseus to return. The first of these two, Solitude (Melancholy) (Figure 7) includes the inscription "melanchonia" on the base of the monument, thereby making explicit the intended sentiment of loss and lamentation. The second, The Melancholy of a Beautiful Day (spring 1913), finds Ariadne pushed back into the distance, once again placed at a significant spatial remove.
By contrast, in the two subsequent works, The Joys and Enigmas of a Strange Hour (spring 1913) and The Soothsayer's Recompense (summer 1913) (Figure 8), Ariadne is brought closer to the foreground, her features more detailed. We can now make out her closed eyes and curly hair, her nose, mouth, breasts and feet. Here it is not Ariadne's physical distance that prevents our full grasp, but the context in which she is placed. The sudden appearance of a train or a palm tree in an otherwise classical environment creates an illogical context that itself reflects back on the sculpture of Ariadne. It is as if we are reading a sentence in which the words are all drawn from different languages--not a question of physical distance, but of logical construction.
In the sixth and seventh paintings in the series, de Chirico approaches his object from a different angle, the viewer now looming over Ariadne as if to contain her beneath his down-turned gaze. In Ariadne (summer or autumn 1913) (Figure 9), the sculpture is yet again caught in the bright sun, a white stone against a yellow courtyard. The building to her left casts a long, large shadow across the piazza, while the only other brightly lit element is the tower in the distance. Also white, the tower is enormous and out of scale--optical cues that serve to draw Ariadne from the foreground to the background, once again moving away from the viewer's grasp. In Ariadne's Afternoon (also summer or autumn 1913), Ariadne slips beneath the bottom of the canvas so that only the upper half of her body is visible. We are offered but a fragment, a body only partially accessible, much like the half-hidden train and ship in the distance.
But perhaps the most disquieting experience of inaccessibility comes from the eighth and final painting in the Ariadne series, The Silent Statue (summer or autumn 1913) (Figure 10). Unlike the earlier paintings, here the body is pressed flat against the picture plane and fills roughly half the painting. The colors have changed as well: no longer a bright white stone in the middle of largely grey surroundings, she is now just as dark and grey as the wall behind her. Nearly monochrome, her body is defined only by a collection of short hatch-marks and stiff, irregular black lines. She appears flat, flimsy, and insubstantial. In this, the final painting of the series, Ariadne's body has lost almost all of its physicality, its availability to exploration by touch. Ironically, at the very moment de Chirico had brought her within arm's reach, she was no longer of the material one could hold in one's hand.
In all eight of the paintings, de Chirico's fixation on the body of Ariadne manifests the same frustrated desire that drove the painter's earlier manipulations of Bocklin's work. The desire to bring the distant near, to overcome the gulf between past and present, history and mythology, remained constant between 1909 and 1913. What the Ariadne series demonstrates is that what did change during those four years was the manner in which de Chirico conceived of this desire and its frustrations. What had appeared (in Munich and later Milan) a problem of distance had become a problem of substance. What had become more proximate had also become more insubstantial; in the end, she was just as inaccessible. What de Chirico had come to realize was that his access to the body of Ariadne had less to do with her position in space than her internal composition.
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Throughout his life, de Chirico worked hard to obscure his most immediate influences, to the point of suggesting that he had almost no interest whatsoever in the modernist practices that surrounded him. And in this he was aided by Apollinaire, for whom de Chirico's painting erupted as a revelation, a unique case of an artist untouched by the contemporaneous practices of French modernism. ("De Chirico," wrote Apollinaire, "may be the only living European painter who has not been influenced by the new French school." (24)) Although Apollinaire's penchant for exaggeration, even outright misrepresentation, (25) has been well known for some time now, scholars have persisted in taking the poet at his word. (26)
The exception to this rule is William Rubin who, in an essay from 1983, broke from the prevailing opinion of de Chirico as the great outsider. (27) Although Rubin's analysis suffers at times from a lack of discrimination--arguing for parallels between de Chirico and Duchamp, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, Klee, among others--his essay makes it clear that one cannot take either the artist or his most famous apologist at their word. Indeed, it is Rubin's discussion of de Chirico's relation to cubism (28) that would seem most pressing when considering the technical and stylistic transformation that took place as the painter worked through his series of Ariadne paintings between the spring of 1912 and the autumn of 1913.
The painter's reception of cubism is obvious on the surface of Ariadne herself, in the metamorphosis of her thick and weighty body into a thin, flat form defined only by rough hatch-marks. (29) Even more representative of de Chirico's debt to cubism is the space in which Ariadne is disposed. Beginning with the deep, wide courtyard in The Lassitude of the Infinite, (spring 1912) (Figure 6), de Chirico progressively draws the buildings around her ever closer. Already by the autumn of 1912, in Solitude (Melancholy)) (Figure 7), Ariadne's surroundings have grown more intimate, her body more tightly contained by the arcaded buildings around her. Behind her, the distant horizon appears only to the left, behind the large and dark building that serves to hold the statue near to the viewer. The most dramatic spatial transformation, and the one that gives the most unequivocal indication of de Chirico's debt to cubism, comes with two paintings from the fall of 1913: Ariadne (Figure 9), and Ariadne's Afternoon. As in Picasso and Braque's landscapes from 1907 until 1909, the picture plane tilts upward most rapidly, and the body of Ariadne, now viewed at a sharp angle from above, appears as if she might in fact be standing rather than lying down. Of all his spatial constructions, this one bears comparison with that of early cubism where, as Leo Steinberg has shown, the attempt to manage the ambivalently disposed female body was one of Picasso's central concerns. (30) Although de Chirico made only scant reference to cubism and did his best to hide the sort of influences apparent in the evolution of the Ariadne series, he did leave some indication of his awareness, indeed real understanding, of the rudiments of cubist painting--most notably in his assessment of Cezanne. Consistent with the contemporaneous reading of Cezanne, de Chirico presents him as one of the key figures in the break with the aesthetics of impressionism. In addition--and in a way that parallels the reading provided by Apollinaire in particular--de Chirico considers Cezanne's achievement in terms of capturing a vision into the world that hides beneath the world of our senses, an alternate reality, not unlike the "conceived" reality that Apollinaire saw in cubism. (31) In one of his early manuscripts, de Chirico uses Cezanne's work as a means of distinguishing those he calls "sensationalists" from those he considers "impressionists." Where, for de Chirico, impressionists are concerned only with the simple task of copying that which appears before the artist's eyes, sensationalists have in mind a more profound task:
They see something: a landscape, a figure, a still life; then using a certain technique to imitate what they see, they try to give to whoever looks at their painting a sensation which what they have reproduced could not give if it were seen in nature. Thus M. Cezanne, in painting a still life--a napkin with big squares, and some tomatoes or fruits--succeeds in giving us a sensation which could not be given by all the still lives of the museums in which the fruits and vegetables are much truer--in the meaning generally given to truth, of course. (32)
In sum, what de Chirico managed to do in his first years in Paris was to find a way to bring the various pictorial transformations into consonance with his earlier concern with the problem of distance and absence. It was his early embrace of Bocklin that enabled de Chirico to receive cubist fragmentation, despecification, and dislocation of the body as a further development of the same symbolist-derived aesthetic of loss. As Rosalind Krauss has demonstrated, the various innovations of cubist painting came, in fact, at considerable expense--most notably, that of the loss of corporeality. For the flat, fragmented forms in Picasso's cubist work evinced a peculiar "withdrawal of touch from the field of the visual," which was in turn "experienced ... as a passionate relation to loss." (33) And it was this experience of loss that contributed to one of the crucial turns in the painter's work; that is, from the morphological to the semiological--a turn which in a certain sense enabled Picasso to regain in some fashion that which he had watched slip through his fingers. (34)
In its thematization of the experience of lost carnality, the Ariadne paintings suggest that de Chirico's early experience with Bocklin's melancholic figuration of a distant mythological sphere enabled the painter to receive the cubist experience of loss with a considerable sensitivity. Whether he was willing to express it or not, de Chirico had found in cubism a means of translating the nineteenth-century discourse of loss--of the body as distant, even irretrievable--into an avant-gardist discourse, one in which the body is not so much distant as incorporeal.
(1.) Although the date of their first meeting cannot be verified with certainty, 1912 is the most plausible date, as proposed by Willard Bohn, Apollinaire and the Faceless Man (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1991), 96. For details of their early interactions, see Willard Bohn, "Giorgio de Chirico's 'Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire' of 1914," The Burlington Magazine 147 (November 2005): 751-754; and Paolo Baldacci, De Chirico: The Metaphysical Period, 1888-1919, trans. Jeffrey Jennings (New York: Bulfinch Press, 1997), 157-166.
(2.) All dates attributed to de Chirico's work are taken from those given in Baldacci, De Chirico.
(3.) This work has not been identified. The title does not refer to any of de Chirico's paintings of this period. See Baldacci, De Chirico, 430.
(4.) Apollinaire referred to The Cardiff Team as "the most modern painting in the Salon ... Light is here revealed in all its truth." Apollinaire, "Through the Salon des Independants," in Guillaume Apollinaire, Apollinaire on Art, trans. Susan Suleiman (New York: Da Capo, 1972), 291. Apollinaire's text originally appeared in Montjoie! (March 18, 1913).
(5.) This article by Apollinaire was discovered only recently. See Bohn, Apollinaire and the Faceless Man, 97. Apollinaire's subsequent mention of de Chirico came on the occasion of the 1913 Salon d'Automne, which opened on November 15. This was the same exhibition in which Picabia presented his early abstractions, Udnie and Edtaonisl. Regarding de Chirico's presentation of four works (a portrait, a study of a nude and two metaphysical paintings, The Melancholy of a Beautiful Day and The Red Tower), Apollinaire wrote in L'Intransigeant, November 16, 1913: "M. de Chirico, an awkward and very gifted painter, is showing some curious landscapes full of new intentions, powerful architecture, and great sensitivity." (Apollinaire, Apollinaire on Art, 327)
(6.) See Bohn, Apollinaire and the Faceless Man, 97.
(7.) In 1918, Apollinaire famously declared that de Chirico "may be the only living European painter who has not been influenced by the new French school." (Apollinaire, Apollinaire on Art, 461). One can hardly be more original than that.
(8.) This, the second stanza, reads in full: "Je ne chante pas ce monde ni les autres astres / Je chante toutes le possibilites de moi-meme hors de ce monde et des astres / Je chante la joie d'errer et le plaisir d'en mourir." The translation of "Le Musicien de Saint-Merry" is taken from Guillaume Apollinaire, Calligrammes, trans., Anne Hyde Greet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 70-77.
(9.) In full: "Le 21 du mois de mai 1913 / Passeur des morts et les mordonnantes meriennes / Des millions de mouches eventaient une splendeur / Quand un homme sans yeux sans nez et sans oreilles / Quittant le Sebasto entra dans la rue Aubry-le-Boucher /..."
(10.) In full: "Et toutes y entrerent sans regarder derriere elles / Sans regretter ce qu'elles ont laisse / Ce qu'elles ont abandonne / Sans regretter le jour la vie et la memoire /"
(11.) "O nuit / Toi ma douleur et mon attente vaine / J'entends mourir le son d'une flute lointaine/"
(12.) Bohn sees the "occasional touches of melancholy,... traces of which are scattered throughout the poem" as "motivated by the recent demise" of his relation with Marie Laurencin (Bohn, Apollinaire and the Faceless Man, 29). Baldacci concludes that the poem's great achievement stems from the way it uses personal history to "transcend the confines of the lyric fragment." (Baldacci, De Chirico, 166).
(13.) Philippe Renaud, Lecture d'Apollinaire (Lausanne: Edition l'Age d'Homme, 1969), 282-286.
(14.) The passage reads in full: "Il est interessant, pour ne pas dire plus, que ce motif apparaisse dans les deux poemes qui encadrent Ondes, le premier etant meme une sorte de poeme-preface imprime en italiques : ainsi toute la premiere partie de Calligrammes parait placee sous le signe de la rupture et de l'affirmation conjointes de certains liens. (Nous ne serions pas surpris d'apprendre--se cela se revele possible un jour--que ce dut etre, a cette epoque, une des preoccupations principales d'Apollinaire)." Renaud, Lecture d'Apollinaire, 273-274.
(15.) Julius Meier-Graefe, Der Autumn Bocklin und die Lehre von den Einheiten (Stuttgart: J. Hoffmann, 1905). For a discussion of the way in which de Chirico's view of Bocklin developed in opposition to Graefe's, see Baldacci, De Chirico, 36-38.
(16.) De Chirico, "Eluard Manuscripts," in Hebdomeros (Cambridge: Exact Change, 1992), 184-185. De Chirico's early writings, unpublished at the time, were collected by a few of his later admirers. The earliest of the two posthumously published manuscripts (1911 to 1913) was in Paul Eluard's collection, while the later (1913 to 1914) was held by Jean Paulhan. Andre Breton holds a number of de Chirico's writings expected to be released with the rest of the poet's private collection. See Giovanni Lista's introduction to the collected early writings of de Chirico, in Giovanni Lista, L'Art metaphysique (Paris: L'Echoppe, 1994), 40.
(17.) De Chirico, "Arnold Bocklin" [originally 1920], in Massimo Carra, ed., Metaphysical Art. trans. Caroline Tisdall (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 139.
(18.) For an account of the relation between de Chirico's work and the Freudian concept of the uncanny, see Hal Foster, Compulsive Beauty (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 63-73.
(19.) De Chirico (1920), cited in Baldacci, De Chirico, 74.
(20.) See Baldacci, De Chirico, 48-49.
(21.) Ariadne as an abandoned woman is one of two well-established depictions of the story. The other depicts her as a figure of joy and liberation at the moment when she is discovered by Dionysus. Efforts by scholars (such Bohn, Baldacci, and dell'Arco) to associate Ariadne with Nietzsche's conception of the Dionysian have yet to address the fact that de Chirico's depiction of Ariadne belongs to a very different pictorial tradition. If his intention was to approach the philosopher's "gay science," why would he have neglected this alternative iconographic source? The persistent association of Ariadne with melancholy and mourning suggests that Bocklin's example was for de Chirico more pertinent than that of Nietzsche.
(22.) For an excellent account of the iconographic complexities of the Ariadne series, see the essays by Michael R. Taylor and Matthew Gale in Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne, ed. Michael R. Taylor (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003).
(23.) For discussions of de Chirico's use of Reinach's drawings, see Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, "De Chirico in Paris, 1911-1915," in William Rubin, ed., De Chirico (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1982), 32; and Paolo Baldacci, "Le classicisme chez Giorgio de Chirico: Theorie et methode," Cahiers du Musee National d'Art Moderne, no. 11 (1983): 19-31.
(24.) Apollinaire, L'Europe nouvelle 13 (April 1918), in Apollinaire, Apollinaire on Art, 461.
(25.) Duchamp replied to a question regarding Apollinaire's statement in The Cubist Painters ("It will perhaps be reserved for an artist as disengaged from aesthetic preoccupations, as occupied with energy as Marcel Duchamp, to reconcile Art and the People"), with the following: "He [Apollinaire] would say anything. Nothing could have given him the basis for writing such a sentence. Let's say that he sometimes guessed what I was going to do, but 'to reconcile Art and the People,' what a joke! That's all Apollinaire! ... He wrote whatever came to him. It was no doubt poetic, in his opinion, but neither truthful nor exactly analytical." (Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Duchamp trans. Ron Padgett (New York: Da Capo Press, 1987), 37-38.
(26.) Wieland Schmied's assessment is characteristic: "[De Chirico] spent a short time in Italy, more or less as a foreigner, before leaving, this time for Paris, where he developed his own style in isolation outside the mainstream of modernism." (Wieland Schmied, "De Chirico, Metaphysical Painting and the International Avant-Garde: Twelve Theses," in Italian Art in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1988, ed. Emily Braun (London: Prestel, 1989), 71-80.
(27.) Rubin singles out the work of Jean Cassou and James Thrall Soby in particular. William Rubin, "De Chirico et la modernite," Giorgio de Chirico (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou), 1983, 9-37. Baldacci considers de Chirico's adoption of modernist techniques (of which he mentions those of van Gogh, Gauguin, Vallotton and Picasso) as "purely functional appropriation." (Baldacci, De Chirico, 152).
(28.) Rubin, however, treats de Chirico's relation to cubism as he does the painter's relation to other modernist practices, namely as a parallel formation indicative of a common Zeitgeist.
(29.) Rubin provides a discussion of the non-corporeality of the bodies in the last Ariadne works (Rubin, "De Chirico et la modernite," 15).
(30.) See Leo Steinberg, "The Philosophical Brothel," October, 44 (Spring 1988): 7-74.
(31.) Apollinaire, "Cubisme," L'Intermediaire des chercheurs et des curieux, October 10, 1912. (Apollinaire, Apollinaire on Art, 256-258.)
(32.) De Chirico, "Eluard Manuscript," 176.
(33.) Rosalind Krauss, "The Motivation of the Sign," in William Rubin, ed., Picasso and Braque: A Symposium (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992), 261-286. (This citation is from page 271).
(34.) As Krauss put it with regard to Picasso's consideration of the painting Ma Jolie: "Picasso's declaration ... that his 'great love' for Eva Gouel will be transcribed into his work in the form of something 'I will write in my paintings.'" (Krauss, "The Motivation of the Sign," 271).
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|Publication:||Southeastern College Art Conference Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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