Giorgio de Chirico. Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure). Paris, early 1914 525

Oil on canvas, 55 1/8" x 6' 5/8" (140 x 184.5 cm). Gift of James Thrall Soby. © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Curator Emeritus, John Elderfield: This is, we know, a painting of the Gare Montparnasse, a train station in Paris, which was close to de Chirico's studio. This is early 1914, and within months, the First World War will have broken out. Are we ready to see the silence, the sense of expectancy in this picture, in relationship to topical events?

Or perhaps we have to wonder whether the world depicted here is operating like a real world? Because it’s clear that the perspective is actually working against itself. The road, for example, on which we see the two small figures is hardly receding at all. Nonetheless, the structure to the left of that road is receding massively.

One thing which is peculiar is how wind operates in this picture. Above the figures is a train, and the smoke is going straight up. To the left is a clock tower with flags, which are blowing hard to the left. So either the climate changes between the foreground of the picture, and the background of the picture or we are being presented with something which is internally inconsistent.

What seems very clear is the still life element in the foreground, the bananas. But the bananas are both the clearest element and also the most puzzling element, because what on earth are bananas doing in this picture of a train station in Paris? The more one looks, the more one finds to puzzle about.

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