Summary of Futurism
Focusing on progress and modernity, the Futurists sought to sweep away traditional artistic notions and replace them with an energetic celebration of the machine age. Focus was placed on creating a unique and dynamic vision of the future and artists incorporated portrayals of urban landscapes as well as new technologies such as trains, cars, and airplanes into their depictions. Speed, violence, and the working classes were all glorified by the group as ways to advance change and their work covered a wide variety of artforms, including architecture, sculpture, literature, theatre, music, and even food.
Futurism was invented, and predominantly based, in Italy, led by the charismatic poet Marinetti. The group was at its most influential and active between 1909 and 1914 but was re-started by Marinetti after the end of the First World War. This revival attracted new artists and became known as second generation Futurism. Although most prominent in Italy, Futurist ideas were utilized by artists in Britain (informing Vorticism), the US and Japan and Futurist works were displayed all over Europe. Russian Futurism is usually considered a separate movement, although some Russian Futurists did engage with the earlier Italian movement. Futurism anticipated the aesthetics of Art Deco as well as influencing Dada and German Expressionism.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- A key focus of the Futurists was the depiction of movement, or dynamism. The group developed a number of novel techniques to express speed and motion, including blurring, repetition, and the use of lines of force. This last method was adapted from the work of the Cubists and the inclusion of such lines became a feature of Futurist images.
- The Futurists published a huge number of different manifestos, using them to communicate their aesthetic, political, and social ideals. Although both the Realists and Symbolists had previously produced similar documents, the sheer scale with which the Futurists created and disseminated their manifestos was unprecedented, allowing them to transmit their ideas to a wider audience. To assist them logistically with their distribution, the group made use of some of the new technologies they depicted in their art including advancements in mass media, printing, and transportation.
- Many Italian Futurists supported Fascism and parallels can be drawn between the two movements. Like the Fascists, the Futurists were strongly patriotic, excited by violence and opposed to parliamentary democracy. When Mussolini took power in 1922 it brought Futurism official acceptance, but, later, this adversely affected many of the artists as they became tainted by association.
Overview of Futurism
An automobile accident had a transforming effect on Marinetti, who famously said, "a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace," as the then unknown writer launched Italy’s most important modern art movement.
Important Art and Artists of Futurism
This pioneering work launched Futurism when it was exhibited in Milan in the 1911 Mostra d'arte libera (Exhibition of free art). The painting combined the brushstrokes and blurred forms of Post-Impressionism with Cubism's fractured representations.
Originally entitled Il lavoro (Work), it depicts the construction of Milan's new electrical power plant. In the center of the frame, a large red horse surges forward, as three men, their muscles straining, try to guide and control it. In the background other horses and workers can be seen. The blurred central figures of the men and horse, depicted in vibrant primary colors, become the focal point of the frenzied movement that surrounds them, suggesting change is born from chaos and that everyone, including the viewer, is caught up in the transformation. As art critic Michael Brenson notes "Horses and people are forces of nature pitted against and aligned with one another in a primal struggle from which Boccioni must have believed something revolutionary would be born".
The work is a celebration of progress and of the working men that drove it, consequently the workers are depicted on a large scale (the canvas measures 6 ½ x 10 foot) and in a style which references Renaissance ideas of the heroic nude. Boccioni visually conveys modern labor as a glorious battle with the past to create a new future.
This painting commemorates the funeral of Galli, an anarchist killed during strike action. Hundreds, including women and children, attended his funeral procession, which was led by a cohort of anarchists. The painting captures the moment that police mounted on horseback attacked the procession. Carrà was at the funeral and in his later autobiography wrote, "I found myself unwillingly in the centre of it, before me I saw the coffin, covered in red carnations, sway dangerously on the shoulders of the pallbearers; I saw horses go mad, sticks and lances clash, it seemed to me that the corpse could have fallen to the ground at any moment and the horses would have trampled it. Deeply struck, as soon as I got home I did a drawing of what I had seen".
Galli's coffin, draped in a red cloth, is shown in the center of the canvas, held aloft by anarchists, depicted in black. They press energetically forward towards a wall of police cavalry on the left. Rays of light emanate from the coffin, illuminating the dark, merging mass of humanity and indicating Galli as the focus of the piece; referencing his role in igniting the current violence. The top third of the painting is dominated by strong diagonal lines with flagpoles, banners, lances, and cranes suggesting the melee and siege apparatus of war.
Carrà's initial sketches for the work used a more traditional perspective, but, after a trip to Paris with other Futurists in 1910 where they encountered Pablo Picasso's Cubist works, the artist dramatically changed the painting to include fracturing, using it to demonstrate intense movement. This technique was described in a 1912 version of the Futurist Manifesto using Funeral of the Anarchist Galli as a reference. The manifesto noted that "If we paint the phases of a riot, the crowd bustling with uplifted fists and the noisy onslaught of the cavalry are translated upon the canvas in sheaves of lines corresponding to the conflicting forces, following the general law of violence of the picture. These force-lines must encircle and involve the spectator so that he will in a manner be forced to struggle himself with the persons in the picture."
This humorous painting shows a woman, as she walks her small black Dachshund down a city sidewalk. Cropped to an extreme close-up, the woman's feet, along with the bottom folds of her black dress, as well as the dog's feet, tail and floppy ears are multiplied and depicted in varying degrees of transparency and opacity. The fine metal leash becomes four parabolic curves connecting the woman to the dog. This repetition and replication of the moving elements creates a sense of forward motion which is in opposition to the pavement's diagonal lines.
In creating this image, Balla drew upon chronophotography. In 1882 Etienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotographic gun, which allowed successive movements to be depicted in one photograph. This is one of a number of ways that the Futurists tried to capture movement on canvas and a similar technique can be seen in some of Balla's other works such as Girl Running on Balcony (1912). Yet, as art curator Tom Lobbock writes, the painting "Even without these multiplication and motion effects... would be doing something that's novel. There aren't many previous paintings that present us with such an abrupt close-up. Balla takes the kind of subject that Impressionism had specialised in...but he picks out only a single detail, an almost randomly chosen clip, and makes it the focus of the whole picture...a trivial subject is made into the main event".
Useful Resources on Futurism
- Futurism (Movements in Modern Art)Our Pick
- Futurism: An Anthology (Henry McBride Series in Modernism)
- The New Tendency in Art: Post Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism (1913)Our Pick
- The Other Futurism: Futurist Activity in Venice, Padua, and Verona (Toronto Italian)
- The Turn of the Century: The First Futurists (American University Studies)
- Futurism Exhibition at Tate ModernOur PickTime Out London's video round up of the exhibition
- Architectural Futurism of the 1920'sFritz Lang's Film Metropolis, Le Corbusier's The City of To-Morrow, and Hugh Ferriss's The Metropolis of Tomorrow
- Futurism: Manifestos and Other Resources
- ItalianFuturism.orgOur PickEvents, Exhibitions, and Scholarship pertaining to Italian Futurism
- The Italian Futurist BookDetails of some Futurist Publications