About This Artwork

Giorgio de Chirico
Italian, born Greece, 1888–1978

The Philosopher's Conquest, late 1913–early 1914

Oil on canvas
49 1/4 x 39 in. (125.1 x 99.1 cm)
Signed, l.r.: "G. de Chirico"

Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1939.405

© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

The work of Giorgio de Chirico represents an unexpected form of classicism in early avant-garde painting. This canvas, one of six in a series, combines a Mediterranean cityscape with still-life objects. Familiar elements appear in many of de Chirico’s paintings like pieces of a mysterious puzzle: a classical arcade, oddly oversize artichokes, a cannon and cannonballs, a clock, an industrial brick chimney, a monumental tower, a running train, and a square-rigged sailing ship. Here the stage set for this extraordinary juxtaposition of objects is an Italian piazza, virtually deserted except for the menacing shadowy figures outside the edge of the scene.

De Chirico represented objects with a matter-of-fact, though intentionally crude, precision. He painted his scenes flatly, in bright colors, and illuminated them with a cold white light. Rendered in this clear style, works like The Philosopher’s Conquest seem rife with meaning, though they remain resolutely enigmatic. Indeed, by juxtaposing incongruous objects, the artist sought to produce a metaphysical quality, what he called "art that in certain aspects resembles . . . the restlessness of myth." De Chirico’s works would profoundly affect the Surrealists, who in the 1920s and 1930s attempted to portray dreams and images of the subconscious in their work.

— Entry, The Esstential Guide, 2013, p. 257.


Giorgio de Chirico created his greatest and most influential works during a span of a few years, from 1911 to 1917. This large painting is one of his masterpieces. He was one of the first artists to concentrate on evoking a psychic rather than material reality through incongruous juxtapositions of objects, thus foreshadowing the central goal and one of the principal techniques of Surrealism.

In this painting, de Chirico deployed a repertoire of images that he was to combine and recombine in many other paintings of the period: the vast, empty spaces, the mysterious archways, the long, eerie shadows, the train, clock, and factory chimneys. An aching melancholy pervades the scene. The warmth and bustle of human activity seem to have receded from this place. This is the stillness and silence of a Mediterranean city under the midday sun, but heightened and transformed. Only distant or menacing traces of human activity remain: the train and ship far in the background, dwarfed by the factory chimneys; the shadows of two unseen figures; the cannon jutting out of the left edge of the picture, with its two cannon balls awkwardly and provocatively stacked above it; and, in the immediate foreground, two huge artichokes, which, in their spikiness and size, discourage the viewer's approach, keeping the spell of the scene behind them unbroken.

The formal features of de Chirico's paintings, although generally overlooked in favor of the subject, are also significant. While the individual objects are rendered realistically, there is no bravura in de Chirico's approach. The forms are depicted in a flat, simplified, almost crude manner, and are either starkly silhouetted, as is the train and clock, or heavily outlined in black, with a self-conscious lack of sophistication (for example, every brick is outlined in the factory chimney in the left background). The perspective and surfaces are also often skewed and tipped in ways that have been attributed to the influence of Cubism. The artist's skill clearly does not reside in a traditional display of realistic painting, but rather in the strong structure of his compositions and in the telling choice of and relations among objects.

A related drawing, dated no earlier than fall 1913, shows many of the principal features of this painting. The main differences in the drawing are a palm tree in the background, to the far left, which has been replaced in the painting by the belching factory chimney, and a group of bananas in the foreground, where the artist later placed the two oversized artichokes. Interestingly, in his choice and treatment of the artichokes, de Chirico has preserved the emphasis on a profusion of pointed shapes found in the bananas, while heightening with his new choice the incongruity of the objects placed in the picture's foreground. De Chirico also later added the two cannon balls poised above the cannon. The drawing is entitled Le vainqueur (The Conqueror). The title that the picture bears today, The Philosopher's Conquest, suggests that the picture represents a triumph of the inner world, the painter's conquest of the human psyche.

—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 146-147.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Paris, Baraquements du Champ-de-Mars, Salon des Indépendants 30e, March 1–April 30, 1914, cat. 683, as Les joies et les énigmes d’une heure étrange, 1913.

Paris, Galerie Paul Guillaume, Giorgio de Chirico, June 4–12, 1926, cat. 1, as La Conquête du Philosophe. New York, Valentine Gallery, Paintings by Giorgio de Chirico, January 23–February 11, 1928, cat. 6, as La Conquete du Philosophe, 1913.

Washington, D.C., G. Place Gallery, Chirico Exhibition, December 5–25, 1943. Art Institute of Chicago, The Winterbotham Collection, May 23–June 22, 1947, p. 11 (ill.).

Dallas, Texas State Fair, Museum of Fine Arts, The Winterbotham Collection of 20th Century Paintings, October 8–November 6, 1949.

Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Chagall and de Chirico, April 3–May 1, 1955, n.p., cat. 6.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Giorgio de Chirico, September 6–October 31, 1955, pp. 65, 68–69, 188 (ill.).

Milan, Palazzo Reale, Arte italiana del XX secolo da collezioni Americane, April 30–July 26, 1960, pp. 76 (ill.), 196, cat. 84, as La conquista del filosofo; traveled to Rome, Galeria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, July 15–September 15, 1960.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage, March 27–June 9, 1968, pp. 77, 78 (ill.), 80, fig. 101, traveled to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 16–September 8, 1968; and Art Institute of Chicago, October 19–December 8, 1968.

Milan, Palazzo Reale, Giorgio de Chirico, April–May 1970, pp. 27, fig. 14 (ill.), cat. 14, as La conquista del filosofo.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Giorgio de Chirico, April 3–June 29, 1982; traveled to London, Tate Gallery, August 4–October 3, 1982; Munich, Haus der Kunst, November 17, 1982–January 30, 1983, pp. 84 (ill.), 146 (ill), cat. 12, fig. 3, as Die Eroberung des Philosophen, La conquista del filosofo; traveled to Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, February 24–April 25, 1983, pp. 45–46 (ill.), 148 (ill.), fig. 12, cat. 12, as La Conquête du philosophe, La conquista del filosofo.

Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Die Andere Moderne–De Chirico/Savino, September 15–December 2, 2001, pp. 215, 217 (ill.), 349, cat. 28, as La conquete du philosophe, Die Eroberung des Philosophen; traveled to Munich, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus December 20, 2001–March 10, 2002.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Art and Photography of Paris, September 20, 2008–January 4, 2009.

Publication History

Barnes, Albert C., Chirico (Galerie Paul Guillaume, 1926), cat. 1.

Freud, Sigmund, “La question de l’analyse par les non-médecins,” La Révolution Surréaliste 3, nos. 9-10 (October 1, 1927), p. 27 (ill.).

Breton, André, Le surréalisme et la painture (Paris: Librarie Gallimard, 1928), pl. 27 (ill.), as Les joies et les énigmes d’une heure étrange, 1914.

Documents 2, no. 5 (1930), p. 311 (ill.), as Nature morte turino-printanière. Sweet, Frederick A., “Modigliani and Chirico,” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago 33, no. 6 (November 1939), pp. 90-91, (ill. on cover).

Wilenski, Reginald Howard, Modern French Painters (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1940), p. 238, pl. 68A (ill.), as La conqûete du philosophie: l’horloge, 1913.

Soby, James Thrall, The Early Chirico (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1941), pp. ix, 38-40, pl. 26 (ill.), as The Conquest of the Philosopher.

Frost, Rosamund, Contemporary Art: The March of Art from Cézanne Until Now (New York: Crowne Publishers, 1942), pp. vi, 156 (ill.).

Kuh, Katherine, The Winterbotham Collection (Art Institute of Chicago, 1947), pp. 10-11 (ill.).

“Chicago’s Winterbotham Collection,” Art News 46, no. 7 (September 1947), p. 35 (ill.).

Faldi, Italo, Il Primo de Chirico, Arte d’Oggi (Venice, 1949), pp. 17-18, pl.

X.Vieira, José Geraldo, “Tomografia do Surrealismo,” Habitat 17 (July-August 1954), p. 40 (ill.), as A Conquista do Filósofo.

Malone, Lee and Lionel Venturi, Chagall and de Chirico (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1955), n.p., cat. 6.

Soby, James Thrall, Giorgio de Chirico (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1955), pp. 65, 68-69, 188 (ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection (Art Institute, 1961), pp. 118, 471 (ill.).

Benayoun, Robert, Érotique du Surréalism (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1965), p. 106 (ill.), as La conquête.

Speyer, A. James, “Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture,” Apollo 84 (September 1966), p. 225.

Rubin, William, “Toward a Critical Framework: 1. Notes on Surrealism and Fantasy Art,” Artforum 5, no. 1 (September 1966), p. 40 (ill.).

Cunningham, Charles C., El Mundo de los Museos: Instituto de Arte de Chicago (Madrid, 1967) pp. 14 (ill.), 74 (ill.), as La conquista del filósofo.

Rubin, William, Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1968), pp. 77, 78 (ill.), 80, fig. 101.

Far, Isabella, Giorgio de Chirico (Milan: Fratelli Fabbri Editori, 1968), pp. 18, pl. 3 (ill.).Maxon, John, The Art Institute of Chicago (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1970), pp. 271 (ill.), 279.

Carrà, Massimo, trans. by Caroline Tisdall, Metaphysical Art (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), n.p. (ill.), cat. 98.

Bruni, Claudio, Catalogo Generale Giorgio de Chirico volume primo, opere dal 1908 al 1930 (Milan, 1971), n.p., cat. 21 (ill.), as La conquista del filosofo.

Bruni, Claudio, Catalogo Generale Giorgio de Chirico volume secondo, opere dal 1908 al 1930 (Milan, 1971), n.p., cat. 21, as La conquista del filosofo.

Nishimura, Toshio, ed., Le Futurisme, La Peinture Métaphysique et le Dadaïsme, Les Grandes Maîtres de la Peinture Moderne, XXI (Tokyo: CHUOKORON-SHA, 1973), p. 117 (ill.), pl. 28 (ill.), as La conquista del filosofo.

Feldstein, Janice J., ed., The Art Institute of Chicago: 100 Masterpieces (Art Institute of Chicago, 1978), pp. 128–129 (ill.), 159, cat. 80.

Schmied, Wieland, Alain Jouffroy, Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arce, and Domenico Porzio, De Chirico: Leben und Werk (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1980), pp. 145 (ill.), 287 (ill.), fig. 17, cat. 40, as Die Eroberung des Philosophen.

Speyer, A. James, and Courtney Graham Donnell, Twentieth-Century European Paintings (Chicago, 1980), p. 36, no.1D6.

dell’Arco, Maurizio Fagiolo, and Paolo Baldacci, Giorgio de Chirico: Parigi 1924-1929, dalla nascita del Surrealismo al crollo di Wall Street (Milan: Edizioni Philippe Daverio, 1982), pp. 210 (ill.), 211, 258–59.

Rubin, William, Wieland Schmeid, and Jean Clair, Giorgio de Chirico: der Metaphysiker (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1982), pp. 84 (ill.), 146 (ill), cat. 12, fig. 3, as Die Eroberung des Philosophen, La conquista del filosofo.

Russel, John, “De Chirico is the Star in Modern’s New Wing,” New York Times, April 2, 1982, pp. C1, 28 (ill.).

dell’Arco, Maurizio Fagiolo, “Giorgio De Chirico à Paris,” Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne 84:13 (1984), pp. 68-69 (ill.), fig. 29, as La Conquête du philosophie, 1913–14.

dell’Arco, Maurizio Fagiolo, L’Opera completa di De Chirico: 1908-1924 (Milan: Rizzoli Editore, 1984), pp. 86 (ill.), 87, 120, cat. 45, pl. XIII, as La conquête du philosophe (La conquista del filosofo), 1913-14.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection: A Living Tradition (Art Institute, 1986), pp. 11, 32 (ill.), 58.

Gimferrer, Pere, Giorgio de Chirico (Paris: Éditions Albin Michel, 1988), pp. 38 (ill.), 126, cat. 23, as La conquéte du philosophe.

Wood, James N., Master Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1988), pp.

Di Carlo, Massimo, Claudia Gian Ferrari, Paolo Levi, and Massimo Simonetti, Giorgio de Chirico: 1920–1950 (Milan: Electa, 1989), pp. 18 (ill.), 158, as La conquista del filosofo, La conquête du philosophe, 1913-14.

Guzzi, Domenico, Giorgio de Chirico: Arma Virumque Cano, il mito classico dell’eroe guerriero (Rome: Leonardo Arte Srl, 1989), pp. 26, 27 (ill.), as La conquista del filosofo.

Rainbow-Vigourt, Marielle Blanche Alice, The Vision of Giorgio de Chirico in Painting and Writing Ph.D. dissertation Syracuse University, 1989, pp. x, 135, 159, fig. 30.

Schmied, Wieland, De Chirico und sein Schatten: Metaphysische und surrealistische Tendenzen in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1989), p. 50 (ill.), as Die Eroberung des Philosophen.

Giraudon, Colette, Paul Guillaume et les peintres du Xxe siècle: De l’art nègre à l’avant-garde (Paris: La Bibliothèque des arts, 1993), p. 73 (ill.).

Silver, Larry, Art in History (London, 1993), p. 404 (ill.), pl. 9.53.

Schmied, Wieland, Giorgio de Chirico: Die beunruhigenden Musen (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1993), p. 22, as Die Eroberung des Philosophen.

Art Institue of Chicago, Museum Studies 20, no. 2 (1994), pp. 107, 146–47 (ill.), 185 (1ll.), back cover (ill.).

Institut l’homme et le temps, Le Temps dans la Peinture (La Chaux-De-Fonds, c. 1994), p. cover (ill.), 60, 61 (ill.), fig. 47, as La conquête du philosophe.

Cork, Richard, A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde Art and the Great War (Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 31, 32 (ill.), 33, pl. 21.

Braun, Emily, ed., Giorgio de Chirico and America (Hunter College of the City University of New York, 1996), p. 241, Appendix 1.

Wood, James N. and Teri J. Edelstein, The Art Institute of Chicago: Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture (Art Institute of Chicago, 1996), pp. 30 (ill.), 158.

Baldacci, Paolo, de Chirico: 1888–1919 La metafisica (Milan: Leonardo Arte, 1997), pp. 191 (ill.), 193–94, cat. 48, as La conquête du philosophe (La conquista del filosofo).

Crescentini, Claudio, Melancolico de Chirico: 1905–1935 (Rome: Luca Maria Patella, 1999), p. 43, as La conquête du philosophe, 1913–14.

Wood, James N. and Debra N. Mancoff, Treasures from The Art Institute of Chicago (Hudson Hills Press, 2000), p. 253 (ill.).

Baldacci, Paolo, and Wieland Schmied, Die Anderee Moderne de Chirico/Savino (Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2001), pp. 215, 217 (ill.), 349, cat. 28, as La conquete du philosophe, Die Eroberung des Philosophen.

Taylor, Michael R., Giorgio de chirico and the Myth of Ariadne (London: Merrell Publishers, Ltd., 2002), pp. 43–44 (ill.), fig. 32.

Ownership History

Galerie Paul Guillaume (died 1934), Paris, by 1926 [Paris 1926]. Valentine Gallery, New York, by 1928 [Baldacci 1997]. Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York; sold to the Art Institute, 1939 [receipt in curatorial file].




View mobile website