"Le Muse Inquietanti" undoubtedly holds an important place in the work of Giorgio De Chirico (1888-1978). The subject, one he explored repeatedly throughout his career, is coming up for auction in a version from the late 1950s.
Giorgio De Chirico (1880-1978), Le Muse Inquietanti, late 1950s, oil on canvas signed, titled and countersigned on the back, 97 x 66 cm/38.2 x 26 in.
Highly representative of De Chirico's metaphysical period, the first painting known as Le Muse Inquietanti dates from 1917-1918. In the background is the castle of Ferrara, the city where the painter arrived in 1917 when he entered the military neuropathy hospital, and where he met Carlo Carrà. This year, crucial for both artists, enabled De Chirico to share details of an artistic language he had previously developed in Paris—involving the placement of objects, the geometric division of space and flat architecture—and to formalize this metaphysical style in a shareable syntax. As Federica Rovati tell us in her article "Chirico, Carrà and Morandi: Metaphysical Painting in the Face of War", the friendship between the two artists also kept them from sinking into despair. Very concrete aspects of hospital life enter the paintings through the various carpentry and sewing workshops, and we can identify workshop mannequins, boxes and wooden blocks.
The Disquieting Muses (a literal translation of the painting’s title) distill the anguish of the period and the limbo experienced by De Chirico, whose mental illness was recognized by the military institution. Of the three figures laid out diagonally, one features a straitjacket, which blends into the foot of a column, and another a head in the form of a punching ball. The contained violence of these substitutions evokes the very real mutilations that undermined humanist values. The third sculpture, in the shadows, still fosters an illusion, but upon closer inspection, we see that the simplification of its face makes it impossible to discern the simplest of features as if the human being can no longer be identified in the era of the trenches. Its blindness has led some critics to interpret it as the figure of tragedy. The boards that cover the piazza and elevate these various elements, particularly in regard to the factory and its chimneys, suggest a theater and accentuate the staged aspect of the painting.
De Chirico took up this subject again in 1925, well before the neo-metaphysical period of the 1940s when he produced further copies and replicas, paradoxically at a time when he was affirming a return to the classical world and Old Masters. This particular composition thus seems to have haunted him. Should we see it as the resurfacing of things repressed in an artist for whom the role of memory was crucial? The Italian psychoanalyst Adello Vanni recently put forward a theory for analyzing this painting, starting with one of his first titles—not The Disquieting Muses, but The Disquieting Virgins—and examining his correspondence with Antonia Bolognesi, with whom he was having an affair at the time. With muses and vestal virgins, one myth could have been wrapped in another for De Chirico, that great master of enigmas. However, in this version from the late 1950s (estimated at €400,000/600,000), a variant appears at the bottom right, where a second casket (or wooden box) is superimposed on the first in different colors. A possibly significant element, but in any event a detail that enables the painting, listed in the catalogue raisonné under number 1725, to be easily identified. A singularity nestling in the heart of one of the Italian painter’s most frequently dissected works.