True surrealism is the most profound form of art because it tackles the absurdities and contradictions of our modern world and helps us to work them out through our Subconsciousness and dreams. The first time I saw an exhibition of de Chirico's works, I had extremely vivid and memorable dreams for a week after and felt "cured."
But like any religion that can deeply touch people, Surrealism, once it became famous also attracted its fair share of quacks and charlatans. This is why de Chirico is so important: In the same way that Patti Smith was 'punk' before Punk Rock was officially invented, de Chirico was a surrealist before the Surrealist Movement took conscious shape with Andre Breton's shrill "Manifesto of Surrealism" in 1924. De Chirico didn't jump on the bandwagon. He was pulling it!
This worthy but pricey (therefore minus a couple of stars) book focuses on this early period when de Chirico was happily pursuing his own path into the twilight, undisturbed by the excessive fuss that the Surrealist movement and its showmen, like Dali, later whipped up.
Paintings like "The Endless Voyage" (1914) show a jarring clutter of objects setting up intangible lines of tension, often with humorous results. In effect, his art works like the human brain, abstracting images and objects from their natural context and relocating them to the landscape of the mind and memory.
Setting the stage with his deserted cityscapes painted with sharp contrasts of light and shadow, distorted perspectives, and a blurring of the border between interior and exterior, de Chirico evokes a haunting, ominous, but strangely relaxing dream world. This deep psychological aspect of his paintings has him constantly reinterpreting themes, leading to recurrent motifs. In these early paintings lavishly reproduced in this massive tome, he constantly uses statues as focal points, later replaced by his trademark faceless mannequins. Other mysterious objects further increase the element of enigma.
De Chirico was a surrealist more by accident than design and his work relied less heavily on overt humor and shock than the more famous surrealists who followed him, like Dali and Magritte. De Chirico's focus was always on beauty and the creation of moods through an appeal to a deeper psychological language. For this reason, while much surrealist work has dated like an old joke, Chirico's art is still as fresh as ever.