A Focus on Giorgio de Chirico in Milan

La scuola dei gladiatori e dintorni at the Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano (May 9 – July 1, 2017)

Giorgio de Chirico, “The School of Gladiators: The Fight,” 1928. Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano, Milan.

Last week a focus exhibition on Giorgio de Chirico’s Gladiator paintings closed at the Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano in Milan. Organized by former CIMA Fellow Chiara Fabi, now a curator at the museum, the show aimed to deepen the understanding of the museum’s permanent collection and the artist. The highlight was Giorgio de Chirico’s “The School of Gladiators: The Fight,” a painting that was bought by the collector-couple Antonio Boschi and Marieda Di Stefano in 1939 in Paris. The work is part of a series of sixty paintings on the theme of gladiators, which de Chirico painted between early 1927 and 1929. CIMA had three from this series on view in its fourth season exhibition, Giorgio de Chirico – Giulio Paolini / Giulio Paolini – Giorgio de Chirico, which just recently closed on June 24, 2017. The majestic canvas at the Boschi di Stefano was conceived to decorate the reception room—the “Hall of Gladiators”—of the art dealer Léonce Rosenberg’s apartment in Paris. De Chirico and other major artists who were part of Rosenberg’s Galerie de L’Effort Moderne created artworks for this apartment, too (including de Chirico’s brother, Alberto Savinio—subject of CIMA’s upcoming season in October).

Roberto Bestetti works on the de Chirico Gladiator picture during the exhibition at the Boschi Di Stefano museum. Photo courtesy of the Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano.

The Boschi di Stefano Museum’s exhibition looked at de Chirico’s artwork from various points of view, drawing attention to the intero corpus of the gladiators that the artist created and including some minor studies and prints made in 1928. The  museum even had a conservator working on the picture during the month of June, in full view of the public. This show also served to clarify the reason why this painting is in the Boschi Di Stefano collection. Around 1931, after the great economic depression, Rosenberg declared bankruptcy and had to sell his goods at auction. Seeing a great chance, Antonio Boschi and Marieda Di Stefano decided to buy the painting in 1939, when it was on exhibit at the Galleria Del Milione in Milan.

During the course of this focus exhibition, the Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano held a series of programs to present new research that has been conducted on de Chirico. These talks—which featured two former CIMA Fellows—touched on the iconography and literature that fed into the artist’s poetic imagery and also looked deeply at his artistic techniques.

Giovanni Casini, who just recently concluded his fellowship at CIMA, gave a talk focusing on de Chirico’s art market in France in the 1920s, a fruitful period in Paris for the artist. De Chirico found enormous success in the French art market while juggling two dealers simultaneously, Paul Guillaume and Léonce Rosenberg. For his talk Casini focused in particular on the relationship between de Chirico and Rosenberg—the subject of his fellowship at CIMA and also his PhD thesis at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London—reporting on the results of his research at the Fonds Léonce Rosenberg at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where he studied original archival records of the artist-patron communications.

In the short video Giovanni prepared about one of the gladiator pictures at CIMA, you can learn about many of the themes that emerge in the artist’s work of this period. Firstly, de Chirico’s artistic technique changes. Contrary to how he was executing his Metaphysical Period paintings of the 1910s, de Chirico in the 1920s applied thick, dense, short brush strokes. Moreover, the palette changed, becoming more hearty and brownish. Casini argues that de Chirico was also inspired by contemporary advertisements and early Technicolor movies such as “The Ten Commandments” (1923) by Cecil B. DeMille or “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ” (1925) by Fred Niblo.

Two of the other programs at the Casa Boschi di Stefano featured speakers who like Giovanni just recently presented at CIMA during the Giorgio de Chirico – Giulio Paolini Study Days: Nicol Mocchi and Gianluca Poldi. Nicol Mocchi was a CIMA Fellow during the Giorgio Morandi season, and she recently authored a new book on Giorgio de Chirico and his brother Alberto Savinio, looking at the books these brothers read around 1910 when they created Metaphysical Painting and how those readings informed the philosophy behind their art. Gianluca Poldi is a conservation scientist who has presented several times at CIMA, most recently on the early Metaphysical Painting technique of de Chirico. In Milan Poldi looked more to de Chirico’s interest in the history of painting techniques, an interest that emerged powerfully in the 1920s, when the artist penned several treatises on the subject and began to paint in a manner that imitated some of the Old Masters. Poldi contrasted de Chirico’s interest in historic techniques with the artist’s actual approach and technique, drawing on the results he found during scientific examination, using non-invasive techniques like infrared and x-ray.

Gianluca Poldi giving his talk on May 31, 2017, at the museum. Photo by Giuseppe Preatoni. Courtesy of the Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano.

One of the things that makes CIMA distinct is the fact that much of the scholarly work behind the exhibition takes place during the course of the season, through the research conducted by the fellows and by others who participate in CIMA’s programming. CIMA is in the process of creating the research section of its website, where this research will be presented. The videos of the programs and the papers presented at the Study Days will all be available soon through this microsite. In the meantime, many of the videos exist already on CIMA’s Vimeo site.