In any case, market interest prevailed for de Chirico’s earlier output, so the artist obliged by continuing to duplicate older works. He called these copies verifalsi
, or “true fakes.” De Chirico didn’t see any ethical issues in copying his own work. He thought “that the idea is important, and the idea is what the artist owns,” explained Laura Mattioli, founder of New York’s Center for Italian Modern Art. In other words, de Chirico was making an argument about intellectual property. His compositions and motifs belonged to him, not collectors—why shouldn’t he repeat them? Additionally, he believed that the original concept for a work was more important than the authenticity of a painting’s brushstrokes. These ideas were decades ahead of their time. The
movement, which didn’t begin until the 1960s, used such thinking as a basis for its own creations, which foregrounded the theoretical intentions of the artist.
As Paolo Picozza, president of the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico in Rome, asserted, “Such pieces may be a copy or a reprise of a theme with small variations, but one is always in the presence of an authentic artwork.” Rather than “fakes,” Picozza considers these as legitimate paintings within de Chirico’s oeuvre. Indeed, his copies have a Menardian quality: As duplicates made at the market’s behest, they adopted new meanings and embedded critiques that the first iterations lacked.
Picozza stressed the distinction as a variety of more insidious de Chirico forgeries—made by criminals—have come to market within the past few decades. According to a 2005 ARTnews survey
, de Chirico is one of the top 10 most forged artists in history. Even before the artist died in 1978, counterfeits were rampant. “Few have been the moments in which he has not been involved in legal battles over the authenticity of paintings attributed to him,” Luigi Barzini wrote
in a 1970 article for the New York Times
. De Chirico may have supported his collectors’ nostalgia for an earlier period as he subverted prevailing ideas about originality, but unfortunately for contemporary scholars, he didn’t always make clear which year he actually created many of his works. Further confusing matters, collectors sometimes requested that de Chirico backdate a work to the year of the original.