De Chirico, Max Ernst, Magritte, Balthus: A Look into the Invisible, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

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The Independent Culture

Giorgio de Chirico is one of the painters we know so well from all the reproductions we used to display on our walls when we were breathless students: those lonely, wind-swept piazzas, headless statues and tiny humanoids with their weirdly over-stretched shadows... In fact, as with so many other painters, his work often looks better in reproduction. The crudity of application is smoothed away. All we are left with is the strangely disturbing idea of the work itself, and – in the very best of his art – the bald, bold use of contrasting primary colours. Look at the poster created for this exhibition for example, or the laminated cover of the press pack. They are more arresting than the painting called The Enigma of the Arrival and the Afternoon that it used as its starting point.

This exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence is an attempt to create a lineage of influence, to say that first there was De Chirico, and then along came others in his wake – Max Ernst, René Magritte, Balthus, Morandi and others. All these spirits were influenced by De Chirico to a greater or lesser degree, we are told. Is this true?

The answer is: well yes, in part, but... De Chirico's most memorable works were created during the second decade of the 20th century, the decade, it could be argued, when the world of the West changed irrevocably. The terrible blight of world war saw to that. Now De Chirico never painted war – but he undoubtedly painted the atmosphere of anxiety and incertitude provoked by war, the pervasive feeling that a mighty gulf had opened up, and that it would be the task of writers and artists to stare into that beckoning gulf, and to report on what they saw down there. They just couldn't help it. Things were falling apart for everyone – and that included W B Yeats, T S Eliot, and Georg Trakl, to name not artists at all but three poets, all kindred spirits of artists like De Chirico.

The fact is that everyone was influencing everyone else.

To 18 July (