The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914
… The painter himself must have attached no particular importance to this figure, since it does not occur again except in forgeries or later copies of his early works. To many people, however, the figure of the girl is an unforgettable invention; it is by now deeply imbedded in public consciousness, like Dali’s famous limp watches. And there is in fact an extreme fascination in following the girl’s progress within the image.
[line break added] She must run for the open light, past a yellow carnival wagon (an object several times included in de Chirico’s paintings of 1914), past a menacing arcade, past the forbidding shadow of a Victorian sculpture lying directly in her path. One has the impression that even if she reaches the light, she is doomed, for she is herself a shadow, perhaps retracing her steps which led to her dissolution, her image invested with the horror of ghostly re-enactment.
[line break added] No other painting by de Chirico more piercingly conveys the sense of omen which the painter himself once described as follows: “One of the strangest and deepest sensations that prehistory has left with us is the sensation of foretelling. It will always exist. It is like an eternal proof of the senselessness of the universe. The first man must have seen auguries everywhere, he must have trembled at every step he took.”
The Evil Genius of a King, 1914
… At this point it may be well to digress for a moment and consider wherein de Chirico’s still lifes, discussed above, differ from the “rococo” cubism being created simultaneously by his great colleague, Picasso. In 1914 both de Chirico and Picasso were intent on substituting new combinations for traditional juxtapositions of objects in still life; the latter’s sculpture of this year, The Glass of Absinthe, is a conspicuous case in point. Their methods of so doing, however, were quite opposite.
[line break added] Picasso’s choice of objects was based on an extraordinary visual sensitivity, whereby all manner of trite materials suggested to him the place they might find in a new, spontaneous, plastic order. He invented as he went along, guided by a sure associational instinct, as when, in The Glass of Absinthe, the top of the sculpture consists of a metal spatula or spoon. De Chirico, on the other hand, appears to have relied on a more or less total inspiration which he ecstatically transferred to canvas.
[line break added] He makes the matter clear in the following statement: “The revelation we have of a work of art, the conception of a picture must represent something which has no sense in itself, has no subject, which from the point of view of human logic means nothing at all. I say that such a revelation (or if you like, conception), must be felt so strongly, must give us such joy or such pain that we are obliged to paint, impelled by a force greater than the force which impels a starving man to bite like a wild beast into the piece of bread he happens to find.”
… Picasso’s control can almost never be questioned. He was and is a great artist who has made creative accidents happen almost at will, a professional born to his art and incredibly deft. De Chirico, contrarily, seems helplessly involved in the strange happenings of his genius, an amateur delighted by bewildering success. One feels that he has watched the objects accumulate in The Evil Genius of a King as a child watches the contents of a Christmas stocking pour out on the floor, not knowing what will come next and exclaiming at the miracle of what has already appeared.