I had known Maurice de Giorgio for several years, visited his home several times, worked with him on several projects and travelled with him on several occasions. 

It was typical of his elegant self-effacement– his sense of aesthetic modesty– that he never gave me, or anyone else I know, an inkling what an accomplished creative artist he was too. Maurice pulled down the curtain on his high-performance life exactly four years ago, on May 28, 2015, just in time to savour the publication of a book in his honour, A Timeless Gentleman, which I, as editor of Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, had the gratification of putting together conspiratorially behind his back, with the passionate assistance of 42 of his fans, devotees and admirers. Only through the contribution of one of these, Nicholas de Piro’s essay Kissed by the Muses, was I introduced to an unknown facet of Maurice – the carefully concealed artist. 

We know nothing of Maurice’s training in art and none of his known biographies shed any light on it or refer to it at all. I doubt he was self-taught; creativity is mostly innate and no academy will instil it when it is absent. But technique is acquired through teaching and training. Maurice received his earlier education in Milan. 

That may account for the Italianate traits of some of his drawings and some discreet, but nonetheless noticeable, art deco echoes. Most of his contemporary Maltese artists were heavily influenced by Giuseppe Calì, directly, or by Edward Caruana Dingli, the two gurus of the Maltese art world in between the two World Wars. Not so Maurice de Giorgio. I would guess he absorbed all he could, and perfected himself in art when studying in Italy rather than on his return to Malta just before the outbreak of World War II.

What I know of Maurice’s work is the small selection de Piro published – no works in oils, only watercolours, crayons and drawings. Maurice never even mentioned his creative work to me or offered to show me any. And I don’t believe he had any framed and hanging works in his lavishly art-rich home – though in this I may be wrong. Why this reticence, this distaste for showing-off, I cannot fathom. He was never a self-promoter, a blower of his own trumpets, but to this extent…

Except for one drawing, all Maurice’s published work stays within the parameters of traditional graphics: figurative, elegant, and confident. Some have the deliberate outline flatness of comic-strip characters, others the rounded softness of chaste eroticism. All show the confidence and assuredness of an artist who has mastered the medium.

Why this abrupt stop? What changed? Had his artistic well run dry, or was it a voluntary, self-imposed choice?

The one exception that breaks the traditional mould shows a convoluted and highly distorted entanglement of human bodies – two or more? A taste for experimentation that makes one regret its uniqueness and isolation. Obviously, Maurice had it in him to go down that modernist path, but chose not to. Quite evidently, he cultivated a special rapport with the beauty of the female form – a perennial source of inspiration for many artists throughout the centuries. Who his models were remains unknown, but I bet he did not choose them for their plainness. Some mirror the Madonna stereotype, others squeeze out every drop of glamour from the girl.

Had Maurice so chosen, he could have become an inspired professional artist. But as de Piro wryly comments, if Maurice de Giorgio had opted to open a restaurant, it would have been the best restaurant around. Similarly, had he chosen to be a fashion designer, a landscape gardener, or an interior decorator, no one would have challenged his top place. He had the Midas touch, and more. Perhaps it is because whatever Maurice kneaded, the main ingredient would always be the aesthetic imperative.

All Maurice’s published work dates to the 1940s. At that stage, it was already imbued with full maturity and carried the promise of more things to come. Instead, however, it then seems to have ground to a halt. Why did so much potential abort? Maurice’s intellectual pursuits remained hyperactive, his spirit inquisitive and unsatiated by the present, straining for more of the future. So why this abrupt stop? What changed? Had his artistic well run dry, or was it a voluntary, self-imposed choice? Did he suddenly come to prefer the silence of the spirit? 

I noticed a similar regression in my own father. In his teenage years, he painted, and not incompetently either. His work, though still raw, showed promise. Then he painted no more. I once asked him why that happened, and I cannot forget the reply that has since seared my spirit: “Art is so sublime, that it should only be left to giants. Unless you belong to the greats, your daubs demean art”. Maurice never once mentioned his art to me, so I never had the chance to find out his answer to the same question.

I join the team at FPM, which Maurice had chaired with such dedication and love, in remembering him both for his noted and lesser-known qualities and talents.

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