Giorgio de Chirico’s haunting series of paintings devoted to the ancient Greek myth of Ariadne, ranking among the greatest achievements of modern art, will be shown together for the first time in an international loan exhibition that debuts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from November 3, 2002 through January 5, 2003. Philadelphia is the only U.S. city to host the exhibition, which contains about 50 paintings along with related drawings and sculpture that examines the artist’s lifelong body of work inspired by the abandoned princess.
Organized by the Museum, Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne offers the unprecedented opportunity to view these striking and enigmatic works together while also linking them to a large group of paintings from later in the artist’s career, allowing visitors to follow the symbolism and the autobiographical significance of the theme that haunted de Chirico throughout his lifetime.
"The Soothsayer’s Recompense, a masterpiece by de Chirico which is owned by the Museum and represents a reclining Ariadne in the form of an antique sculpture set within a silent city square, inspired us to reunite these eight poetic canvases that he painted shortly before World War I," said Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "The mystery and melancholy found in these astonishing early works resonated throughout de Chirico’s long career, and this exhibition places this monumental and highly personal series within the broader context of the artist’s achievement."
Born in 1888, the Greek-born Italian artist is considered one of the most innovative and controversial artists of the 20th century, and is widely recognized as the precursor of Surrealism. De Chirico exerted a profound impact on the art of his century. His dream-like paintings of deserted city squares, occupied by mysterious shadows, stopped clocks, and sleeping statues, influenced other masters of modern art like Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, and René Magritte, who all acknowledged their debt to the Italian painter’s unique vision. The serial nature of his controversial late works, 18 of which will be in the exhibition, foreshadows tendencies that emerged among younger artists in the 1960s, like Andy Warhol, who regarded de Chirico’s late work as a powerful example for his own art practice. De Chirico’s early success in Paris and lionization by the Surrealists were followed by decades of negative criticism, brought about by his return to what he saw as the techniques of the old masters after 1919. De Chirico’s influence continues to be felt today in painting, film, music, advertising, and design.
De Chirico turned to a number of sources in ancient and modern literature to pursue his interest in the mythological heroine Ariadne, chief among them being Ovid and Friedrich Nietzsche. The daughter of King Minos of Crete, Ariadne’s story begins with a chance encounter with the Athenian prince Theseus, who was sent to kill the deadly Minotaur. According to the myth, Ariadne helped Theseus to escape the Minotaur's lair by giving him golden thread with which to find his way out of its labyrinth. Theseus promised to make Ariadne his bride, but during their journey to Athens he abandoned her on the island of Naxos, where she was rescued by the god Dionysus.
Michael Taylor, the Museum’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and organizer of Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne, said, "When one reexamines the Ariadne theme through the entirety of de Chirico’s career there emerges a continuity between these early paintings, initiated at a time of intense loneliness during his first years in Paris before World War I, and the later works created when he abandoned modern art in favor of the Old Masters, thus alienating him from the very painters he influenced. By the time he returned to the Ariadne theme in the 1930s he equated her with painting itself, her golden thread becoming a metaphor for the painter’s quest for knowledge and perfection."
The exhibition reunites The Soothsayer’s Recompense (1913), which entered the Museum’s collection in 1950 as part of the distinguished collection donated by Louise and Walter Arensberg, with the seven other Ariadne paintings completed between the spring of 1912 and the autumn of 1913: Melanconia, 1912 (Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London); The Melancholy of a Beautiful Day, 1913 (Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, Brussels); The Lassitude of the Infinite, circa 1913 (private collection); Ariadne, 1913 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Ariadne’s Afternoon, 1913 (private collection); The Joys and Enigmas of a Strange Hour, 1913 (private collection); and The Silent Statue, 1913 (Kunstsammlung Nordhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany). Each of these paintings depicts the reclining Ariadne as an antique statue in a city square.
The subject of Ariadne would return throughout de Chirico’s career, chiefly in the large, much debated, extended series of Piazza d’Italia paintings. Many of these works will be exhibited for the first time.
The exhibition is made possible in part by The Pew Charitable Trusts; it is also supported by the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
After its showing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art the exhibition will be seen at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London (January 22—April 13, 2003).
To accompany the exhibition, a comprehensive, fully illustrated catalogue exploring the literary, artistic, and philosophical meanings of the Ariadne series will be published by the Museum in association with Merrell Publishers Ltd. The book contains essays by Michael Taylor and Matthew Gale, Collections Curator at Tate Modern, London, as well as a recently discovered text by Max Ernst and an interview with Gerard Tempest, an artist who studied with de Chirico in Rome in the late 1940s. Over 60 works of art are reproduced in full color. The book also contains an extensive chronology of the artist’s life, a selected bibliography and a checklist of the exhibition. Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne is available in hardcover ($65) and softcover ($38) and can be purchased in the Museum Store, by calling (800) 329-4856, or by visiting the Museum’s Online Store at www.philamuseum.org.