Giorgio de Chirico

The Melancholy of Departure


Not on display

Giorgio de Chirico 1888–1978
Original title
Melanconia della partenza
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 518 × 359 mm
frame: 682 × 524 × 70 mm
Purchased 1978

Display caption

De Chirico painted The Melancholy of Departure after he returned from Paris to Italy to serve in the First World War. The window and the map with a traced route evoke ideas of travel, suggesting escape from a cluttered, claustrophobic studio. Even as a child in Greece, de Chirico felt detached from his surroundings and identified with the voyaging Argonauts of Greek mythology. He imagined their journey across ‘measureless oceans’, an atmosphere which the Paris Surrealists saw as anticipating their own concerns.

Gallery label, January 2022

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Catalogue entry

Giorgio de Chirico 1888-1978

T02309 The Melancholy of Departure 1916

Inscribed 'G. de Chirico' t.r.
Oil on canvas, 20 3/8 x 14 3/16 (51.8 x 36)
Purchased from Cofinarte (Grant-in-Aid) 1978
Prov: René Gaffé, Brussels; through Zwemmer Gallery, London; Sir Roland Penrose, London, 1937; Cofinarte, Switzerland
Exh: [?Giorgio de Chirico, Galerie Paul Guillaume, Paris, June 1926 (13) as 'Mélancolie du Départ']; Chirico-Picasso, Zwemmer Gallery, London, June 1937 (5) as 'Mélancolie du Départ' 1915; Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Galerie Beaux-Arts, Paris, January-February 1938 (not in catalogue); The Impact of Machines, London Gallery, London, July-August 1938 (64); Giorgio de Chirico (1911-17), London Gallery, London, October-November 1938 (8); The Early Chirico, 1911-17, London Gallery, London, April 1949 (8); Gloire de la Peinture Moderne: Hommage à James Ensor, Palais des Thermes, Ostend, July-August 1949 (48, repr.); Eretentoonstelling James Ensor, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, September-October 1949 (48); Le Muse Inquietanti: Maestri del Surrealismo, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Turin, November 1967-January 1968 (54, repr.); Metafisica di de Chirico, Galleria Annunciata, Milan, April-May 1968 (works not listed, repr.); Proposal for a Collection of Contemporary Art, Cultural Center of the Philippines Museum, Manila, October-November 1976 (11, repr. in colour); Fundamental Aspects of Modernism, Fine Arts Gallery, California State University, Northridge, March-April 1977 (10, repr. in colour); Early Twentieth Century Masterpainters, Museum of Albuquerque, June-July 1977 (10, repr. in colour); Du Spatialisme au Futurisme Italien, Musée Rath, Geneva, October 1977-January 1978 (40, repr. in black and white, and detail in colour); Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, London, January-March 1978 (1.14, repr. in colour)
Lit: James Thrall Soby, Giorgio de Chirico (New York 1955), pp.112-13, repr. p.222; Claudio Bruni, Catalogo Generale Giorgio de Chirico. Volume primo: Opere dal 1908 al 1930 (Milan c.1971), No.36, repr. as 'Melanconia della Partenza' 1916; Marianne W. Martin, 'Reflections on De Chirico and Arte Metafisica' in Art Bulletin, LX, 1978, pp.351-2, repr. p.351
Repr: Isabella Far, de Chirico (New York 1968), pl.27 in colour as 'The Melancholy of Departure' 1916

This picture was painted in Ferrara during the war at a time when de Chirico was serving as a clerk in the Italian Army, but was able to resume painting in his spare time partly in barracks, partly in furnished rooms and hotels, and partly in military hospitals. It is one of three still-life paintings made at this period with maps and with a loose 'scaffolding' of forms in the background, the others being 'Politics' and 'Evangelical Still Life', both of which are signed and dated 1916. On style it would seem to be the last or the last but one of the three.

A. Bates has noted that the map in 'Evangelical Still Life' (now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York) is the same as the one in Carlo Carrà's 'Metaphysical Muse' of 1917 and that the latter shows more of the surrounding area, which makes it possible to identify the site as the Istrian Peninsula just south of Trieste and containing the towns Fiume and Pola. On the other hand, the maps in 'The Melancholy of Departure' and 'Politics' have not been identified, and it seems very probable that the one in this work (which includes a dotted line indicating the route of a sea or lake voyage) is purely imaginary.

The theme of travelling is recurrent in de Chirico's works of about 1913-16 and there are several earlier paintings of piazzas and colonnades, with trains puffing smoke in the background, which have titles of this kind, such as 'The Anxious Journey' 1913 in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and 'The Anguish of Departure' 1914 in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. One of the paintings of this type made in 1914 is also sometimes known as 'The Melancholy of Departure', though more usually nowadays as 'Gare Montparnasse'.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.120-1, reproduced p.120


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