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Goings on About Town: Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico
Combattimento di puritani (Combat of Puritans), c. 1955
Oil on canvas
29 1/8 x 39 inches (74 x 99 cm)
38 x 48 inches (96.5 x 121.9 cm) framed

© 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome; Photo by Argenis Apolinario

“Horses: The Death of a Rider” (at the Vito Schnabel gallery, through July 29) is a jewel of a show, featuring sixteen paintings, made across five decades, by Giorgio de Chirico—meditations not on horses, per se, but on their symbolic heft. The story of Nietzsche’s devastating encounter with an abused equine first moved de Chirico to take on the subject, in 1910. The philosopher’s revelation: how immeasurably cruel humanity. (“Combat of Puritans,” circa 1955, above, suggests that the artist agreed with him.) Looking around this exhibition, one gets the feeling that de Chirico also painted horses because painters historically painted horses—and he was, above all, devoted to the classics. As ever, his compositions unbalance all sense of time, place, and scale. His beasts may stand in a single landscape, but they rarely share the same gravitational pull; they range from the muscularly modelled to the near-cartoonish, flat and funny. One of the show’s revelations: “Battle at a Castle,” from 1946, in which a mighty steed, mid-gallop in the foreground, stares directly at the viewer, while his rider surveys the bloodshed. Imagine the artist placing those delicate daubs of white to complete the horse’s eyes—the animal now staring back at his creator—so that they might, for a moment, commiserate about the mad world of men.