T. has a fascinating painting that he found in his grandfather's attic. It resembles a valuable piece by Giorgio de Chirico of 1915 entitled "La pureté d'un rêve" (the purity of a dream). He sent me photos of the front, side and back of the painting to show how the canvas wraps around the wooden stretcher and the type of nails. I can see by these shots that his piece is, in fact, a painting and not a giclée (a reproduction). The line of paint on the side is uneven, which signals original brush strokes. If the piece was a giclée, we might see the color area ending in a sharp line. But we need more research as this could be an original copy.
T. also sent me a photo of the bottom of the painting that indicates it has been eaten away. Here again, I see the application of real paint, including the rippling of the paint surface, called craquelure, indicating stress. The canvas, once coated with semi-flexible oil paint, supports the even surface of the oil paint — that is, until the canvas comes into contact with, perhaps, a blunt instrument. You will then see a spider web of small cracks radiating from the center of the impact. This is hard to fake, and is a sign that the painting has traveled a bit and has some age.
Looking at the back of the painting, I see another good indication: "bleed" into the canvas support. In other words, in an aging painting, an appraiser would expect to see certain colors (such as white) bleeding through the canvas over time. This is because titanium and zinc pigments will bleed and yellow in oil-based enamel. A good question for T. to ask a professional restorer who has worked on paintings by de Chirico is how did this artist mix his white paint?
If T. finds the great de Chirico really did paint this work, he may be a lucky man. T. has done enough research to find the existence of a painting by the artist that looks similar; it was painted in 1915 and measures 25.6 x 19.7 inches. However, T.'s painting shows an autumn-colored tree, and the painting that is directly attributed to de Chirico bears a tree with green leaves. T. wonders if de Chirico was behind a dream series of paintings in seasons. This is worth the research. After all, that similar painting sold in 1997 at Sotheby's for $1.5 million.
De Chirico was an Italian artist known for his depictions of dreamlike town squares, as he had great fondness for metaphysical themes. He influenced the great Magritte and Breton, and indeed all surrealist painters.
Here is where this quest gets interesting: In 1919, de Chirico renounced surrealism, turning to classic ways of painting, such as realistic figure paintings, which did not find favor with his critics. However, in his later years, he copied his metaphysical paintings of an earlier time for the money.
De Chirico died in 1978, and his work is held in the great museums of the world: the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, the Tate in the U.K., the Guggenheim in Venice, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Just so T. knows, the most expensive de Chirico painting was sold at auction for more than $14 million.
What would I do if I were T.? I would send good photos to de Chirico's old residence in Rome, now a museum devoted to the artist and his life and writings: the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, located in de Chirico's former apartment, on the top three floors of the 17th century Palazzetto dei Borgognoni, in the Piazza di Spagna! The artist lived there for the last 30 years of his life with his wife, Isabella Pakszwer Far, who donated the premises in 1998. There, T. will find an archive, a library and knowledgeable scholars.
T., write to this foundation or, better yet, make a pilgrimage to the 1960s wing of this house museum, which holds the neo-metaphysical paintings of the last 10 years of the artist's life. If you are lucky, you might possess a painting of that period.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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