Italian Painter, Sculptor, and Theoretician
Reggio Calabria, Italy
Summary of Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni was one of the most prominent and influential artists among the Italian Futurists, an art movement that emerged in the years before the First World War. Boccioni was important not only in developing the movement's theories, but also in introducing the visual innovations that led to the dynamic, Cubist-like style now so closely associated with the group. Emerging first as a painter, Boccioni later produced some significant Futurist sculpture. He died while volunteering in the Italian army, aged only thirty-three, making him emblematic of the Futurists' celebration of the machine and the violent destructive force of modernity.
- Although Boccioni deserves a great amount of credit for evolving the style now associated with Italian Futurism, he first matured as a Neo-Impressionist painter, and was drawn to landscape and portrait subjects. It was not until he encountered Cubism that he developed a style that matched the ideology of dynamism and violent societal upheaval that lay at the heart of Futurism. Boccioni borrowed the geometric forms typical of the French style, and employed them to evoke crashing, startling sounds to accompany the depicted movement.
- Boccioni believed that scientific advances and the experience of modernity demanded that the artist abandon the tradition of depicting static, legible objects. The challenge, he believed, was to represent movement, the experience of flux, and the inter-penetration of objects. Boccioni summed up this project with the phrase, "physical transcendentalism."
- Despite his fascination with physical movement, Boccioni had a strong belief in the importance of intuition, an attitude he inherited from the writings of Henri Bergson and the Symbolist painters of the late-19th century. This shaped Boccioni's approach to depicting the modern world, encouraging him to give it symbolic, almost mythical dimensions that evoked the artist's emotions as much as the objective reality of modern life. In this respect, Boccioni's approach is very different from that of the Cubists, whose work was grounded in an attempt to closely describe the physical character of objects, albeit in a new way.
Biography of Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni was born in 1882 in Reggio Calabria, a rural region on the southern tip of Italy. His parents had originated from the Romagna region, further north. As a young boy, Boccioni and his family moved frequently, eventually settling in the Sicilian city of Catania in 1897, where he received the bulk of his secondary education. There is little evidence to suggest he had any serious interest in the fine arts until 1901, at which time he moved from Catania to Rome and enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma (Academy of Fine Arts, Rome).
Important Art by Umberto Boccioni
This Self-Portrait demonstrates Boccioni's style as a student at the Academy in Rome. Although it differs greatly from his mature Futurism, being far softer in its tone and brushwork, he cherished the picture and never sold it during his lifetime. It is typical of the period when he was moving from a style inspired by early Impressionism to a more volumetric approach suggested by study of works by Paul Cézanne.
The City Rises is considered by many to be the very first truly Futurist painting. Boccioni took a year to complete it and it was exhibited throughout Europe shortly after it was finished. It testifies to the hold that Neo-Impressionism and Symbolism maintained on the movement's artists even after Futurism was inaugurated in 1909. It was not until around 1911 that Boccioni adapted elements of Cubism to create a distinct Futurist style. Nevertheless, The City Rises does capture the group's love of dynamism and their fondness for the modern city. A large horse races into the foreground while several workers struggle to gain control of it, suggesting a primeval conflict between humanity and beasts. The horse and figures are blurred, communicating rapid movement while other elements, such as the buildings in the background, are rendered more realistically. At the same time, the perspective teeters dramatically in different sections of the painting.
The geometric elements and the perspectival distortion in The The Street Enters the House demonstrate the influence of Expressionism and Cubism on Boccioni. According to the original catalog entry for the work, "The dominating sensation is that which one would experience on opening a window: all life, and the noises of the street rush in at the same time as the movement and the reality of the objects outside."
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Umberto Boccioni
- Boccioni's Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece and the Avant-garde in Milan and ParisOur PickBy Emily Braun, Flavio Fergonzi, Giovanna Ginex, Umberto Boccioni
- Umberto BoccioniBy Ester Coen
- Umberto Boccioni: Dynamism of a Speeding Horse: A CatalogueBy Philip Rylands
- Futurist ManifestosOur PickBy Umbro Apollonio
- Futurism (Movements in Modern Art)By Richard Humphreys
- The Graphic Work of Umberto BoccioniBy Joshua Charles Taylor
- Umberto Boccioni:
Estorick Collection, LondonBy Jonathan Jones / The Guardian (UK) / January 27, 2009
- Impossible Dreams of a Speed FreakOur PickBy Laura Cumming / The Observer (UK) / January 18, 2009
- Art Review; Blurring the Line Between the Present and the FutureOur PickBy Grace Glueck / The New York Times / February 13, 2004
- ART; Futuristic Works That Define Dimensions of Time and SpaceBy D. Dominick Lombardi / The New York Times / September 26, 1999
- Art in ReviewBy Michael Kimmelman / The New York Times / April 9, 1993