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Restoration of the Mysterious Baths Fountain
Sempione Park, Milan

7 November 2011

Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico is pleased to announce the restoration of the Mysterious Baths Fountain situated in the gardens of the Triennale in Milan’s Sempione Park. The monumental sculptural project by Giorgio de Chirico was executed in 1973 for the event “Contatto Arte/Città” (Contact Art/City) curated by Giulio Macchi for the 15° Triennale. The recent restoration project was carried out by Gianfranco Mingardi with the sponsorship of Mapei Group, in collaboration with the Municipality of Milan.

The Fountain is the largest sculptural work ever executed by the artist. Jole de Sanna defined it as “painting in landscape” for the impact of its bright colours, framed within the greenery of the surrounding park. The piece is testimony to the extraordinary inventiveness of de Chirico, who, 85 years old at the time, created a work in tune with the then contemporary Pop Art movement. Within its historical context, the work also represents a prototype of “public art”.

The work comprises of eight sculptural elements set in a sinuously shaped basin: two bathers, a swan, a fish, a ball, a changing cabin with diving platform and a fountainhead. A zigzag motif similar to parquet is painted on the bottom of the large basin, simulating the movement of waves. This mysterious “water-parquet” lies at the heart of the Mysterious Baths theme, which originated in 1934 with the ten lithographs de Chirico executed for Jean Cocteau’s Mythologie and is a theme the artist went on to develop extensively in painting.

De Chirico commented on the work on occasion of the Triennale in 1973: “The idea for the Mysterious Baths came to me once when I happened to be in a house where the floor had been polished with wax. I watched a gentleman walking in front of me, whose legs reflected in the floor. I had the impression that he could sink into that floor, like in a swimming pool and that he could move and even swim in it. Then I imagined strange swimming pools with men immersed in a kind of water-parquet, who stood still and moved, and at times stopped moving to converse with other men who stood outside of the pavement-swimming pool.”

Over the years, the Fountain and sculptural elements, which are made of Pietra di Vicenza (a soft, delicate sandstone), were subject to atmospheric conditions and vandalism. An initial restoration intervention took place in 1997 on the incentive of the Municipality of Milan and Count Paolo Marzotto (who had sponsored the Fountain in 1973). The intervention included the cleaning of the basin and its elements, the restoration of the two bathers and the swan, which had been seriously damaged. At the time, the two bathers were removed from the Fountain and stored inside the Triennale at the time as a precautionary measure.

The current restoration project which was completed in 2010, involved a thorough cleaning of the basin and all of the sculptural elements, whose colours were completely restored according to the surviving traces of pigment. Restorer Mingardi chose to respect the work’s age and the passing of time, opting for the use of subdued colours, rather than recreating the bright tonalities of primary red, yellow, blue and ochre that the artist had used. The Fish, originally placed outside the basin on the grass, had gone lost and was recuperated in 2004 by Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico from an auction house in Paris. It was later granted to the Municipality of Milan on permanent loan. This element, which conserved its original colour, served as a reference for the other elements, which had almost completely lost their colours due to the damage they had suffered.

To complete the restoration project, Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico financed the making of exact copies of the two Bathers and the Fish, which were placed in the Fountain on 7 November 2011, on which occasion a conference was held. The original sculptures are now on exhibit in Milan’s Museo del Novecento in Piazza Duomo. Additionally, the museum, which was inaugurated on 5 December 2010, has dedicated an entire room to Giorgio de Chirico, with paintings from the 1920s and 1930s, including: The Prodigal Son, 1922, The Philosopher’s Troubles, Combat (Gladiators) and the splendid portrait of Isabella, Autumn of 1935.

Images: Mysterious Baths Fountain, 1973; Mysterious Baths, 1935-36, oil on canvas; Giorgio de Chirico in front of the Fountain, 1973 (©  photo A. Macchi); The statues of the Bathers and the Fish, Museo del ‘9oo, Milan.

Further reading:

J. de Sanna, Restoration of the Mysterious Baths Fountain in Sempione Park Milan, in “Metafisica. Quaderni della Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico” n. 1/2, T’Chine Editore, Milan, Pictor O, Rome 2002, pp. 371-372.

Katherine Robinson, Mysterious Baths – Communicating Vessels, in “Metafisica” n. 7/8, Le Lettere, Florence, Pictor O, Rome 2008, pp. 154-164.

Nikolaos Velissiotis, Giorgio de Chirico and the Mysterious Baths Fountain in Milan’s Sempione Park, in «Metafisica» n. 9/10, Le Lettere, Florence, Pictor O, Rome 2011, pp. 189-208.