The myth of Ariadne explored by Giorgio de Chirico

Story by Jack Foley

ONE of the most innovative and controversial artists of the 20th century, Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) is the subject of a new exhibition at The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art until April 13, entitled Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne.

Chirico's enigmatic paintings, with their dream-like imagery of deserted city squares filled with mysterious shadows, stopped clocks and sleeping statues, had a profound influence on modern art.

A reclining statue of Ariadne, the princess of Greek mythology, in an empty, sun-drenched piazza, is an important element of de Chirico’s ‘Metaphysical’ iconography.

According to legend, Ariadne was abandoned by her lover, Theseus, on the desert island of Naxos after he had slain the Minotaur and escaped from the labyrinth with the aid of her thread.

This melancholy subject appealed to the artist, who had a nostalgic interest in the classical past. A symbol of exile and loss, the anguished figure of the sleeping Ariadne haunted de Chirico’s imagination during his early years in Paris, a time of intense loneliness for him.

The mystery and melancholy found in these pictures, completed between the spring of 1912 and the autumn of 1913, resonates in his work throughout his long career.

The exhibition brings together key works of the Ariadne series from private and public collections around the world and includes such masterpieces as The Soothsayer’s Recompense (1913), along with related drawings and sculptures.

These iconic works, which were to have such a powerful impact on the Surrealist paintings of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, are complemented by a selection of later paintings on the theme of Ariadne, whose serial approach foreshadows the work of Andy Warhol, a close friend of de Chirico in the 1970s.

The works on display offer visitors a valuable opportunity to examine the early and late works in relation to one another and to analyse the autobiographical symbolism of these haunting images.

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1 2AN. Tel: 020 7704 9522. Opening times: Wednesday to Saturday, 11am - 6pm and Sunday 12 noon - 5pm
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