(Taken from www.futurism.org, full text at http://www.futurism.org.uk/intro.htm)
Literary and poetic in origin, the Futurist movement burst violently onto the European cultural scene on 20 February 1909 when the French newspaper Le
Figaro carried on its front page the aggressive and inflammatory Founding and Manifesto of Futurism. It was written by the polemical Filippo Tommaso
Marinetti, a highly inventive firebrand and a master of public relations. In fact, at this stage, Marinetti was the movement's only member but soon gathered
a literary and artistic coterie around him.
Within a year the doyen of the
group, Giacomo Balla, with Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà,
Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini co-signed The Manifesto of
Futurist Painting. Indeed, Futurism was to be characterized by the huge number of wide-ranging manifestos issued in its name and used to promote it to a
mass audience. In fact, the tenets of Futurism across the arts were invariably defined in words of manifestos long before they appeared in the arts
Futurism was a far-reaching Italian
movement that included poetry, literature, painting, graphics, typography,
sculpture, product design, architecture,
photography, cinema and the performing arts and focused on the dynamic, energetic and violent character of changing 20th century life, especially city
life. It particularly emphasized the power, force and motion of machinery combined with the contemporary fascination with speed while at the same time
denouncing the 'static' art of the past and the passéist or old-fashioned establishment. On the downside it also glorified war, apparently denigrated women,
initially favored Fascism and vilified artistic tradition wanting to "…destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind…".
It is not widely realized today
that much of the initial driving force behind Futurism was political. Italy,
as a country, was only formed in 1861 and by the
turn of the twentieth century was still socially, culturally and administratively backward compared with the rest of Europe. One of Marinetti's ideals was a
somewhat altruistic desire to drag Italy, screaming and shouting if necessary, into the modern twentieth century. In the years leading up to the First World
War, the whole of Europe was an unstable political melting pot and as early as 1909 Marinetti published the First Political Manifesto of Futurism to be
followed in 1911 by the Second Political Manifesto of Futurism. Balla, Carrà and Russolo were all Anarchists and Boccioni was a Marxist-Anarchist. They
were all politically active and, together with Marinetti and many other Futurists, took part in the irredentist demonstrations that urged Italy to enter the First
World War. They were all repeatedly arrested.
Of all the art forms embracing
Futurism it was possibly painting that made, and still makes, the greatest
mark. The Futurists’ prime concern was the
expression of their ideas on culture and contemporary events. Stylistically widespread and lacking a defined, cohesive visual style, Futurist painting owes
some debts to Italian Divisionism and much Futurist painting is often dismissed as a Cubist derivative. Specifically, the hard geometric lines and planes
that characterize much of the early Futurist work of, for example, Balla, Carrà, Boccioni, Ardengo Soffici and Severini is related closely to the
contemporary Cubist movement. Conversely, Futurist representations, of speed and motion especially, had some reciprocal influence on Cubism and on
the Russian Constructivists.
Giacomo Balla. Street Light. 1909
|Form: Oil on canvas. abstract, bright saturated colors, filament like
Iconography: In the detail of the street lamp we can see how the brush strokes and colors are completely abstract. They represent to Balla the disintegration and diffusion of the particles of light themselves. Note how the moon is being eaten up by the rays emanating forth from the electric street lamp. This shows how low the Futurists thought of the archaic, primitive world of nature and felt that technology was the only true way to improve life in Italy.
Context: Balla, like other futurists, was interested in all things mechanical, technical. "In the same year that Matisse painted Luxe, Calme et Volupe (1904-5) which was then the most radically new in French art, Marinetti wrote Let's Kill Moonlight, an allegorical poem about his grandiose ambitions for the Futurists' conquest of world culture. The epic poem is structured on a rigid, binary opposition of light and dark. The moon represents the passive, romantic, and effeminate qualities that Marinetti wanted to completely eradicate from art and from life." (www.aestheticnorms.com)
In the poem Futurists destroy the obsolete, passé cities of Paralysis and Gout, then ascend to the summit of the world in a squadron of biplanes and aboard a "Great Military Railroad." The climax occurs when a "voluptuous moon" rises over the horizon above a lush and perfumed field, nearly lulling the Futurists to sleep. The prospect of sleep in the new age of electric lights enrages the Futurists and they harness hydroelectric turbines to annihilate the enemy moon. Instantly "three hundred electric moons cancel, with their rays of blinding mineral whiteness, the ancient green queen of loves." cited by Ann Temkin, "Luce Futuriste" in The Futurist Imagination, Yale University Art Gallery, 1983 p. 30. The atom was a new and radical concept, one which the Futurists pounced on with glee. They were almost obsessed with making its' presence known and excited by the new way in which it allowed them to represent the world around them.
Balla. Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. 1912
|Form: Oil on canvas. A person walking a dog, they both look like they're
in motion. It has an asymmetrical composition, with the persons top half
cropped by the edge of the painting. The focus is on the dog. Earth tones
and dark colors were used as opposed to the bright saturated colors of
Iconography: The main focus in the painting is the dog. While there is a man or woman walking the dog, that is unimportant. We are shown that the importance is on the dog because the top half of the person is chopped off, and the dog is shown in full view. Balla wanted to show simultaneous views of the dog in motion, and this is achieved by how he has layered the views of the dog one on top of the other.
Context: "Futurism celebrated the machine - the racing car was heralded as the triumph of the age and early futurist paintings were concerned with capturing figures and objects in motion. In [his] Girl Running on the Balcony, Balla attempted to realize movement by showing the girl's running legs in repeated sequence. Other paintings, such as Dog on a Leash, got to grips with the problem of recreating speed and flight by superimposing several images on top of each other." (www.artchive.com) Movement was important, machines were important, but it may be said that he futurists were failing at their attempt to fuse art with technology, because while this painting is a perfect representation of the movement, it is also a fairly poor painting. While many optical effects may be achieved through the use of perspective, chiaroscuro, tenebrism, color, etc. a panting is and always will be static.
Balla. Flight of Swifts. 1913
|Form: Oil on canvas. Asymmetrical. shows the flight of a bird through
the bottom half of the piece. The top half is the background and looks
less busy and moving.
Iconography: "Balla's Flight of the Swifts (1913) and Swifts:
Paths of Movement + Dynamic Sequences (1913) clearly illustrates the concept
of speed-at-an-instant-of-time. Balla's freeze-frame style conveys the
optical phenomena of movement as it might be captured on film when he presents
one event (flight) in several instants of time within that event. Balla
piles scores of frozen instants, one on another, to be synthesized in one
glance or, to reverse the analogy, he gives many visual moments in one
Context: " The question Zeno posed to his students in the fifth
century B.C. involved the idea of speed-at-an-instant-of-time. The paradox
goes as follows. Question: if an 'instant' may mean an infinitely small
period of time, then in an instant how much distance would, say, a flying
arrow cover? Answer: It would not cover any distance. If Zeno had had a
camera he might have encouraged his students to imagine how it would be
if they photographed the arrow in flight. As they made the exposure shorter
and shorter, the image of the arrow would get less and less blurred and
an entirely 'instantaneous' photograph would freeze the arrow's motion
completely. So, they might have concluded, considered at an instant of
time, the arrow could not be said to have a 'speed' at all. Further, if
time is regarded as a succession of infinitesimal instants added together,
Zeno's paradox implies that the moving arrow is at no instant of time genuinely
'moving' at all (Toulmin and Goodfield, 1961, p.104). Actually, Zeno would
not have needed a camera to demonstrate his point had he been acquainted
with the work of the futurist painter Giacomo Balla.
Balla. Auto in Motion. 1913
|Form: Oil on canvas. abstract, somewhat symmetrical. bright vivid colors
matched with dark muddy ones.
Iconography: Much different than the dog or the birds, Balla is showing the auto in pure abstract form. The painting almost makes no sense whatsoever. The only way that the viewer knows it is an auto is by the title. It may be said that this is his comment on how superior and great the automobile is, so much so that it is impossible to truly catch in action.
Context: The futurists loved race cars. Loved them to the point of obsession. Movement, time , motion.
Umberto Boccioni. The City Rises. 1910
|Form: Oil on canvas. filament like brushstrokes, impressionistic, bright
vivid colors. the whole painting looks like its moving. the people, even
though they're trying to hold down, or move a horse, seem to be flying
and floating in a mystical atmosphere
Iconography: "Against the Milanese urban background of smoking
chimneys, scaffolding, a streetcar, and a locomotive, enormous draft horses
tug at their harnesses, while street workers attempt to direct the
animals' explosive strength. Basically, Boccioni still works
here within a modified Impressionist technique whose atomizing effect on
mass permits the forceful, churning symbols of horse and manpower to slip
out of their skins in an Impressionist blur of moving light."
Context: "If, by 1910, Futurism had already written and shouted its
dogma in words, its pictures still lacked an appropriately modern language
to articulate their new subjects. The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni is
a case in point."- Text from Robert Rosenblum, "Cubism and 20th century
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. 1913
43x34x15" bronze NYMOMA
|Form: Bronze abstract sculpture. looks like its moving, or could be
Iconography: His sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
(1913;Mus. of Modern Art) embodies his concept of “lines of force” to replace
the use of straight lines." The problem with this sculpture is that it
does not do a very good job of translating light and motion into mass,
because the sculpture looks too thick and heavy to convey the feeling of
light or motion.
Context: "Italian futurist painter and sculptor. He played a primary
role in the drafting of the manifesto of futurism in 1910 and was the major
figure in the movement until 1914. In his famous, characteristic painting,
The City Rises (1910; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City), he interpreted
powerfully the technological turbulence of modern civilization. Influenced
by Medardo Rosso, Boccioni turned to sculpture in 1912 and sought to translate
light and motion into mass. (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Umberto Boccioni. States of Mind: The Farewells. 1911
oil on canvas 27x37" NYMOMA
|Form: Oil on canvas. cubist influence, abstract, dark muddy colors
with vibrant reds, the only thing totally recognizable is the 6943 in the
Iconography: "A twentieth century reinterpretation of Turner's
Rain, Steam and Speed or Monet's Gare St.-Lazare series, it plunges the
spectator into a raucous, near-hysterical turmoil of machines and people.
Yet now, Cubist planes dominate Impressionist dots and yield a metallic
harshness far more relevant to the machine world admired by the Futurists.
If Monet and Turner interpret the railroad theme as a dazzling luminary
spectacle, Boccioni, with his newly acquired Cubist vocabulary, sees it
as a collisive confusion in which mass emotions are harshly contrasted
with the impersonal automatism of the machine. In the center, the glistening
metal engine, with bumpers and headlights, presides over the human scene
in which embracing figures flow irregularly around the mechanical sentinel
in pulsating waves of emotion reminiscent of the Symbolists use of line
around 1890. By employing the Cubist interlocking of angular, fragmented
planes, Boccioni creates, not the homogeneous glitter of Impressionism,
but a dissonant joining and separation of forms almost audible in their
clangorous reverberations. The silent, cerebral dissection of form in Analytic
Cubism is converted here into the noisy, assaulting ambiance of acoustic,
optical, and kinetic sensations of a modern railroad terminus. Even the
engine number, 6943, has a dramatic quality that portends the emotional
cleavage of imminent departure rather than suggesting the intellectual
quality of metaphysical wit that such numbers have in the works of Picasso
Context:"By the end of 1911, Boccioni, like his fellow Futurists,
had visited Paris in order to become acquainted with the avant-garde center
of Europe and to prepare for the Futurist exhibition to be held in Paris
in 1912. The impact of Cubism on the Futurists was immediate, as may be
suggested by Boccioni's scene of railroad station farewells, the first
in his 1911 series, States of Mind." - Text from Robert Rosenblum, "Cubism
and 20th century Art"
"Futurism is grounded in the complete renewal of human sensibility brought about by the great discoveries of science. Those people who today make use of the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, the train, the bicycle, the motorcycle, the automobile, the ocean liner, the dirigible, the airplane, the cinema, the great newspaper (synthesis of a day in the world's life) do not realize that these various means of communication, transportation, and information have a decisive influence on their psyches." http://www.aestheticnorms.com/aprize3e.html
PORTRAIT OF BENEDETTA c.1924
oil on canvas
|Form: Oil on canvas. portrait laid over top or underneath another image.
somewhat bright and pastel colors.
Iconography: Showing that machines cannot rule the world entirely, this is a portrait of Marinetti's wife, Benedetta Cappa. Far from looking Futurist, it shows a softer side of Balla. He has made his wife otherworldly beautiful, and she is not marred by implied motion, rather it seems like a soft wind is moving around her. His palette is a far cry from the harsh blacks, reds, and yellows of his other works, indeed, this could almost pass for impressionism. A far cry from, 'the auto is king.'
Context: "Benedetta Cappa, known to her friends as Beny, was born to
a strictly Catholic and conservative family in Rome on 14 August
1897. The family knew of Filippo Marinetti as in 1911 Benedetta's
cousin, the lawyer Innocenzo Cappa, defended Marinetti when he was arrested
for pornography on the publication of his novel Mafarka. Her brother, Arturo,
lived with the Czech Futurist painter Rougena Zatkova, and it was probably
through them that Benedetta began moving in Futurist circles. In 1917 she
became a student of Giacomo Balla in Rome, where she developed a large
range of artistic skills. From this time onwards she became a distinctive
proponent of Futurism in both literature and painting. It was in 1917,
at Balla's studio, that she first met Marinetti - who was twenty one years
her senior. Within two years they were living together and they married
in 1923 - just four years after the publication of his manifesto 'Against
Marriage'. Together they had three daughters; Vittoria (1927), Ala (1928)
and Luce (1932). During her artistic career, from 1917 to 1944, Benedetta
produced two bodies of Futurist work - in painting and literature. During
the 1920's, together with her husband, she worked on developing the theory
of Tactilism (first thought of by Marinetti during the war) and experimented
with collage and mixed media to create tactile works. She regularly exhibited
her paintings, notably at the 1926, 1930, 1934 and 1936 Venice Biennale
exhibitions and the 1931, 1935 and 1939 Rome Quadrienniale exhibitions.
During the 1930's she became a leader in the Futurist Aeropittura style
of painting, co-signing the 1931 manifesto. In 1919 her Futurist poetry,
based on Marinetti's parole in liberta (words in freedom), Spicologia di
1 uomo (Psychology of 1 man) was published in Dinamo. In 1924 she took
part in the first Futurist Congress in Milan and the same year published
her first experimental novel Le forze umane. Romanzo astratto con sintesi
grafiche (Human forces. Abstract novel with graphic syntheses). In 1931
she published Viaggio di Gararà. Romanzo cosmico per teatro (Gararà's
journey: Cosmic novel for the theater) followed in 1935 by Astra e il sottomarino.
Vita trasognata (Astra and the submarine: Daydreaming life). After the
death of her husband in 1944, Benedetta ceased her artistic activities.
During the 'fifties and 'sixties she devoted her energies to the study
and promotion of Futurism. Benedetta retired to Venice, where she died
of Futurist Painting
Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà,
On the 18th of March, 1910, in the limelight of the Chiarella Theater
of Turin, we launched our first manifesto to a public of three thousand
We bound ourselves there and then to the movement of Futurist Poetry which was initiated a year earlier by F. T. Marinetti in the columns of the Figaro.
The battle of Turin has remained legendary. We exchanged almost as many
knocks as we did ideas, in order to protect from certain death the genius
And now during a temporary pause in this formidable struggle we come
out of the crowd in order to expound with technical precision our program
Our growing need of truth is no longer satisfied with Form and Color as they have been understood hitherto.
The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a
fixed moment in universal dynamism. It shall simply be the dynamic sensation
Indeed, all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing.
A profile is never motionless before our eyes, but it constantly appears
All is conventional in art. Nothing is absolute in painting. What was
truth for the painters of yesterday is but a falsehood today. We declare,
To paint a human figure you must not paint it; you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere.
Space no longer exists: the street pavement, soaked by rain beneath
the glare of electric lamps, becomes immensely deep and gapes to the very
Who can still believe in the opacity of bodies, since our sharpened
and multiplied sensitiveness has already penetrated the obscure manifestations
It will be sufficient to cite a few examples, chosen amongst thousands, to prove the truth of our arguments.
The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and
at the same time one, ten, four, three; they are motionless and they change
How often have we not seen upon the cheek of the person with whom we are talking the horse which passes at the end of the street.
Our bodies penetrate the sofas upon which we sit, and the sofas penetrate
our bodies. The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in
The construction of pictures has hitherto been foolishly traditional.
Painters have shown us the objects and the people placed before us. We
As in every realm of the human mind, clear-sighted individual research
has swept away the unchanging obscurities of dogma, so must the vivifying
We would at any price re-enter into life. Victorious science has nowadays
disowned its past in order the better to serve the material needs of our
Our renovated consciousness does not permit us to look upon man as the
center of universal life. The suffering of a man is of the same interest
to us as
In order to conceive and understand the novel beauties of a Futurist
picture, the soul must be purified; the eye must be freed from its veil
of atavism and
As soon as ever this result has been obtained, it will be readily admitted
that brown tints have never coursed beneath our skin; it will be discovered
How is it possible still to see the human face pink, now that our life,
redoubled by noctambulism, has multiplied our perceptions as colorists?
The time has passed for our sensations in painting to be whispered.
We wish them in future to sing and re-echo upon our canvases in deafening
Your eyes, accustomed to semi-darkness, will soon open to more radiant
visions of light. The shadows which we shall paint shall be more luminous
We conclude that painting cannot exist today without Divisionism. This
is no process that can be learned and applied at will. Divisionism, for
Our art will probably be accused of tormented and decadent cerebralism.
But we shall merely answer that we are, on the contrary, the primitives
1. That all forms of imitation must be despised, all forms of originality glorified.
2.That it is essential to rebel against the tyranny of
the terms “harmony” and “good taste” as being too elastic expressions,
by the help of which it is
3.That the art critics are useless or harmful.
4.That all subjects previously used must be swept aside in order to express our whirling life of steel, of pride, of fever and of speed.
5.That the name of “madman” with which it is attempted to gag all innovators should be looked upon as a title of honor.
6.That innate complementariness is an absolute necessity in painting, just as free meter in poetry or polyphony in music.
7.That universal dynamism must be rendered in painting as a dynamic sensation.
8.That in the manner of rendering Nature the first essential is sincerity and purity.
9.That movement and light destroy the materiality of bodies.
1.Against the bituminous tints by which it is attempted to obtain the patina of time upon modern pictures.
2.Against the superficial and elementary archaism founded
upon flat tints, and which, by imitating the linear technique of the Egyptians,
3.Against the false claims to belong to the future put
forward by the secessionists and the independents, who have installed new
academies no less
4.Against the nude in painting, as nauseous and as tedious as adultery in literature.
We wish to explain this last point. Nothing is immoral in our eyes;
it is the monotony of the nude against which we fight. We are told that
the subject is
We demand, for ten years, the total suppression of the nude in painting.