“I Love Myself”

Looking for a rare opportunity to see priceless works (with a hefty price tag) in a setting outside the go-to Neukölln/ Kreuzberg/ Mitte galleries? Look no further than the current “Giorgio de Chirico – Self-Portraits” exhibition at Galerie Michael Haas in Charlottenburg. Read below for some intriguing insights into the gallery’s difficulties acquiring the collection, and the artist’s extreme narcissistic personality before heading over to see the works in person.

Hiding in the Shadows

I’ve always been a supporter of the underdog, the little guy, the person who made a huge impact but has been largely overlooked by historical memory. Examples are rampant in the art world. Countless influential artists have fallen into an abyss while society fondly remembers blockbuster artists, such as the ever-favorite Impressionists.

One such is artist is Giorgio de Chirico. Revered by the self-proclaimed artistic literate, but largely unknown by the wider world, the Italian artist founded the scuola metafisica art movement in the years leading up to World War I. Never heard of it? You have definitely seen the legacy of de Chirico’s dreamlike “metaphysical” pieces in the works of Surrealist artists, including Max ErnstSalvador Dalí, and René Magritte. De Chirico created enigmatic visual poetry by using severe light-shadow contrasts, past-present dislocations and his artistic creation of the “picture-within-a-picture” motif.

Although his metaphysical school proved short-lived, flourishing only between 1911 and 1920, de Chirico did not stop painting until his death at age 90. In fact, de Chirico considered himself the twentieth century’s best painter, which perhaps explains why he continuously produced self-portraits throughout his life. In total, the self-proclaimed “pictor optimus” left behind more than 250 representations of himself.

Why Go West?

Luckily for us, Galerie Michael Haas has painstakingly collected 15 self-portraits by de Chirico over the period from in 1920 to 1964 in its West Berlin space. By showing works from right after his early metaphysical style to his later neo-Baroque style, the collection offers a rare glimpse into de Chirico’s artistic development and increasing narcissism over time.

Although de Chirico admittedly loved himself, his self-portrayal was honest to his physiology. As I stood among the 12 works on display in the gallery from various stages in de Chirico’s life, the multi-aged artist never seemed to lose his mute, serious expression and glaring eyes. Not a single work is particularly flattering given its depiction of de Chirico’s puffy eyes, cleft-chin, crooked nose, and sagging neck.

 giorgio de chirico neo-baroque self-portraitOne of Giorgio de Chirico’s neo-Barroque self-portrait at Galerie Michael Haas. Photo: Chris Phillips

Over time, the only changes that seemed to occur in de Chirico’s appearance were heavier under-eye bags and increasingly outlandish and pompous attire. His turn to the works of the “old masters” in the form of a Neo-Baroque style later in his life was clearly tied to his narcissistic personality. De Chirico’s inflated ego is conspicuous in his pompous “self-portraits in Baroque Robes” ranging from 1940 to 1960. When asked in 1978, “what have you loved most in life?,” he replied “myself.”