Art Movements in Art History - Futurism 1911 - 1912
Art Movements > Futurism > Futurism 1911 - 1912
Futurism 1911 - 1912*
1911 is an important year for Futurist painting. It is the year in which painting that may be
identified as Futurist appeared. Work were displayed in La Mostra d'Arte Libera (Exhibition
of Free Art) in Milan in the spring, the first exhibition to include specific Futurist works by
Boccioni, Carra, and Russolo. It also included works by the untrained, by children and by
The critic SoffSci published an article in La Voce (June) "Arte libera e libera pittura
futurista", an attack on Futurism and the Milan exhibition. The Futurists went to Florence
and argued their point with Soffici.
Severini was living and working in Paris. He acted as a sort of go-between for the
Futurists in Italy, reporting on new directions in painting, particularly Cubism. This
became a crucial issue, since Cubism represented the challenge of modernity in painting.
The Futurists knew indirectly of Cubism through Severini and Soffici who had earlier in
the year published an article on Picasso and Braque; they had probably seen black and
white reproductions during the year too. The indirect Cubist influence of this period is
best seen in the work Boccioni painted before October 1911. It may be summed up as an
influence that forced Boccioni to reconsider the object in more substantial, formal terms:
compare The City Rises (1910) with The Street Enters the House (1911).
October 1911 was a decisive month in that the Milanese contingent visited Paris,
persuaded to do so by Severini who had earlier visited them in Milan. Disappointed in their
work, Severini wished to expose the Futurists to the French avant garde. The Italians visited
Paris for three weeks in November, saw the works of the Cubists and met Apollinaire. This
visit confirmed the path taken during the "indirect contact" earlier in the year.
Opinions on the nature and effect of this influence differ. On the one hand, Kozloff
writes, "Futurist art gained in clarity and control, while retaining its desire to
be unique" and Rosenblum, "the contact and assimilation of Cubist principles
was the point at which Futurism entered the mainstream of modern art" , whereas Taylor
holds the view that "the Futurist movement has often been erroneously considered to be an
offshoot of Cubism". He continues, "actually, both its roots and goals were very different,
being more closely allied with those ofthe new movement in German painting which was
called expressionism". Lynton implies a similar view to that of Taylor.
Whatever view is held, on looking at the work, we can only agree with Martin that there
is a more structured sense to the paintings, as well as exploitations of Cubist devices like
simultaneous representation of different views and interpenetration of planes. As these
devices were used to represent dynamism, it seems possible that the
representation of movement in mature Futurist painting might not have been discovered
without Cubism. The concept of "force lines" (term borrowed from physics) was the result.
It describes the combination of the emotional, expressionist side of universal dynamism with
the formal, analytical approach of the Cubists. Force lines reveal the direction an object
would take if it were to follow the tendencies of its forces.
The attitude of the Futurists towards Cubism was a mixture of "homage and respect",
but the modernity they were seeking was to be found within a style. informed by radically
different principles. They objected to the Cubists' "crypto-academism" and their
willingness to be content to innovate within the confines of art alone. Futurism itself was
concerned with an art beyond the pictorial --- with speed, force and energy. The subject
matter of the two groups was not the same either. In fact the Futurists attacked the Cubists
for their apparent relegation of subject matter. The Futurists wanted subjects of' dynamic
sensation such as the city, machines and modern life. Cubist subject matter was static, and
nonthreatening to the bourgeoisie. The Futurists were ready to align themselves with social
:ipheavel and political revolution. They were willing to shift from the contemplative role
osually assigned the artist.
The Cubists' dismissal of' Futurism and the Futurists is worth noting. They regarded
them as "derivative and upstarts". Yet the Futurists affected Delaunay and Leger --- and
their preoccuption with the representation of movement coincided with Marcel Duchamp's
similar researches, as may be seen in his Nude Descending a Staircase.
The change in Futurist work produced through direct contact with Cubism is evident in
what the Italian artists prepared for their Paris show. It is best seen in the work of Boccioni
who, despite statements to the contrary, was much impressed by the Cubist works he had
seen. The climax of Cubist influence appears in his States of Mind series. Boccioni had
worked on a similar series earlier in 1911 before his direct. exposure to Cubism - and a
comparison of the two series reveals Cubist influence in certain differences between them.
Carra's response to Cubism is less overt: he simply reworked the sky of the Funeral of the
Anarchist Galli. The drawings he made at this time are reminiscent of Analytical Cubism.
Russolo remained largely indifferent, but the geometric simplification of the Revolt can be
attributed to Cubism.
In 1912 a large Futurist exhihibition was held. This, the group's first extensive show,
was held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune for three weeks during February. Thirty-four paintings were
exhibited, including works by Severini, Boccioni, Carra and Russolo. No work by Balla was
shown, although one work was listed in the catalogue. The catalogue also contained the
Technical Manifesto of Painting.
Although Futurist work was not well received by the critics and the public, sufficient
curiosity and excitement were generated to sustain the Futurists' own excitement -- and
assure them of contacts so that the exhibition could travel to England, Belgium, Germany
and Holland. In this way were Futurist works exported. The works exhibited in these four
countries received mixed reviews.
All the Milanese artists came to Paris for the show and were both active and aggressive.
They saw more work by the Cubists.
The relationship between the Italians and Paris is interesting. The Futurists recognised
that Paris, although not the only artistic centre, was indeed the Mecca, representing as it
did all that was being done in the home of avant-garde modernity. The Futurists wanted to
show in Paris; they wanted to win enthusiastic recognition and acceptance there -- they
did not want to become French, or faceless, as so many foreigners had done in Paris.
Marinetti worked out a new, radical theory of poetry in the Technical Manifesto of
Futurist Literature as a preface to Zang Tumb Tumb. He drew on the work of the
painters. Central to his new theory is the concept of analogy.
The heart of Marinetti's new theory of poetry was his concept of analogy. A
substantive was to be followed directly by its "double ... to which it is bound by
analogy; for example, man-destroyer-escort, woman-gulf, mob-surf, piazza-funnel", and a
"chain of analogies" was to evoke the successive movements of an object. An analogy
represented to Marinetti "the immense love which joins distant and seemingly different and
hostile things. It is by means of very vast analogies that this orchestral style, at once
polychrome, polyphonic and polymorph, can embrace the life of matter". Creative
inspiration, like a radio, would thus draw upon the higher frequencies of universal life: no
doubt the phrase immaginazione senza fili not only signified a creative process unfettered
oy conventions, but by analogy, suggested the similarity of the poet's activity to wireless
reception and transmission of seemingly imperceptible relationship and movement.
The examples of analogies given in Marinetti's manifesto recall some of the associative
imagery used in the painting of states of mind, by which the painters had similarly
transcended traditional limits of space and time. In a more technical sense, Marinetti's
innovations can of course be traced back to Rimbaud and Mallarme, as his detractors have
repeatedly pointed out, although Marinetti's ends differed radically from those of the
By the end of 1912 an alliance had been reached in Italy between the Futurists and the
Florentine artists and writers, particularly Soffici and Papini. Together they founded a
magazine called Lacerba which become the platform for Futurist theory and practice as
well as the mouthpiece for all principles of irrationalism. The first issue appeared on 1
Although Balla did not play an active part in the Futurist movement until 1913 when he
participated in the Futurist Exhibition in Rome, he had signed the earlier statements (in
absentia) and had produced works under the Futurist impulse. The extent to which he was
aware of colleagues' work is not clear. The Electric Lamp is the only surviving early
Futurist-directed work and, like that of his colleagues of that time, it shows Art Nouveau
forms and Divisionist technique.
The work of 1912 illustrates Balla's subsequent researches for valid pictorial
equivalents of motion. He started by analysing motion as though seen in slow motion,
that is by looking at the successive stages of a movement sequence. He also used as a
starting point his knowledge of photography and the work of Marey and Muybridge.
Examples of this type of painting are Leash in Motion and Rhythms of the Bow. Then Balla
began to study light "in terms of intricate harmonies of closely valued (tone) colour" in a
painting called iridescent Interpenetrations. These relate to the studies of light by Delaunay
Later in 1912 Balla combined his interests in light (iridescences) and observation in Girl
Running on Balcony and in a series of Flight of Swifts (Paths of Movement and Dynamic
.Sequence) (dated late autumn 1913). Many drawings, watercolours and gouaches precede
the paintings in which he examined and analysed flight and conceptualised its mechanics.
During the winter of 1913, Balla's subject matter became more explicitly Futurist; it
was analysed in the same thoughtful way as he had done for the birds.
* Drawn from notes compiled by R. Becker for the University of South Africa