Artworks and Artists of Futurism

Progression of Art
Umberto Boccioni: The City Rises (1910)

The City Rises

Artist: Umberto Boccioni

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.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Carlo Carrà: Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (1910-11)

Funeral of the Anarchist Galli

Artist: Carlo Carrà

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."

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Giacomo Balla: Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912)

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash

Artist: Giacomo Balla

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".

Oil on canvas - Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Gino Severini: Dancer at Pigalle (1912)

Dancer at Pigalle

Artist: Gino Severini

The dancer, depicted in the middle of the painting is composed of a dynamic intersection of lines and swirling fabric. Four beams of stage lighting focus inwards on her, highlighting her as the center of the image whilst, in contrast, her rapid, rotational movements radiate out in concentric circles to the edges of the pictorial plane. Each of these circular layers contains fragmentary images of musicians, instruments, viewers, and shapes evoking musical notes, capturing an essence of the space in which she performs.

Italian born and raised, Severini moved to Paris in 1906 where, living in the Montmartre district, he became friends with Georges Braque, Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso, whilst also maintaining connections with the Futurists. It was at Severini's instigation, that Boccioni and Carlo Carrà traveled to Paris to view the works of the Cubists. The subject matter of theater and dance was unique to Severini within the context of the Futurist movement, as art historian Maria Heidinger notes, he "set himself apart from standard Futurist ideology that glorified machinery by using dancer and dancehall subject matter to generate a mood and sense of 'collective consciousness' that was equated with modern Parisian social life". Between 1910-14 he painted over a hundred works depicting dancers.

Severini often incorporated 3D elements into his work creating canvases that were a hybrid between painting and sculpture. In this image this takes the form of sequins glued to the painting, which catch and focus light, and the use of gesso to build up the surface of the work in certain areas. In some ways, this technique makes the image more tangible, giving it a sense of shape and texture but it also creates contrasting experiences for the viewer when the canvas is seen from different angles and perspectives.

Oil and sequins on sculpted gesso on artist's canvasboard - Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland

Natalia Goncharova: The Cyclist (1913)

The Cyclist

Artist: Natalia Goncharova

Goncharova was a leader of the Russian avant-garde and a key figure in the Moscow Futurists. Here, she depicts a cyclist pedaling past storefronts which display advertisement hoardings. The Russian Futurist fascination with print, text, and typography can be seen in the bold letters on these billboards. Translated, the words read "hat", "silk" and "thread", along with an isolated "Я" which functions as an artist's signature. The choice of these items probably reflects Goncharova's interest in textiles and design and may relate to her proto-feminist emphasis on the equal importance of women's work.

The cyclist's feet, legs, and body, along with the frame and wheels of the bicycle, are multiplied to convey both forward momentum and the jarring vibrations of the wheels up and down on the cobblestone street. In combining these elements, the work creates a tension between the present and the past, as the older cobblestones are juxtaposed with the modernity of the background and the bicycle. Resembling the cobblestones in color and shape, the cyclist's flat cap identifies him as a Russian worker, and this contrasts with the aristocratic top hat depicted in the advertisement behind him. This more representational treatment of the cyclist as an ordinary man on his way to work, whilst echoing themes of the importance of the worker, sets itself apart from Italian Futurism, which focused on cycling as an aggressive sport - as seen in Boccioni's Dynamism of a Cyclist (1913), where a speeding cyclist becomes a violent vortex impelled across the pictorial plane.

Oil on canvas - The Russian Museum, St.Petersburg, Russia

Umberto Boccioni: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913)

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Artist: Umberto Boccioni

A man strides powerfully forwards, his form aerodynamically deformed by the speed at which he is traveling. As art critic Barry Schwabsky writes, "The fluid, rippling forms that make up this strange body are not its own; what Boccioni shows us, I believe, is the air moving around and about it as the body steps forward, seemingly against some great resistance. Boccioni's man has no shape of his own, but is molded instead by those forces in the face of which he determinedly proceeds". Geometrically rendered, helmeted and faceless with massive thighs and shoulders but armless, the figure seems both superhuman and robotic, a kind of machine man of the modern age. In exaggerating the dynamism of the body, Boccioni's form becomes a metaphor for progress acting against the forces of traditionalism and a testament to the role that machinery will play in the new age that he has envisaged.

Originally created in plaster, the work was not cast in Boccioni's lifetime and the bronze shown here is one of two cast in 1931. Frustrated by the limitations of canvas, Boccioni took up sculpture in 1912, noting that "these days I am obsessed by sculpture! I believe I have glimpsed a complete renovation of that mummified art". As this statement indicates, he felt that his approach, emphasizing what he called a "synthetic continuity" of motion was a radical transformation of the medium and opposed to the "analytical discontinuity" he found in the works of other contemporary sculptors including Frantisek Kupka and Marcel Duchamp. Despite his contempt for other types of sculpture, similarities can be seen between this work and other, more traditional, depictions including Auguste Rodin's Walking Man (1877-78) and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (c. 200-190 BC), both armless and headless figures striding forward.

Bronze - The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

Joseph Stella: Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14)

Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras

Artist: Joseph Stella

Vibrantly colored, this kaleidoscope of whirling diagonals, cones, and elliptical forms depicts the amusements of Coney Island including its famous rollercoaster, which the artist described as "an intense arabesque...[its] surging crowd and the revolving machines generating... violent, dangerous pleasures". The fragments of brightly colored lights, rides, signs, and the Mardi Gras crowd create an intoxicating feeling of celebration. This work with its force lines, sense of motion and subject matter is clearly Futurist in style but in other ways it gently subverts the work of the group. The word 'Battle' in the title references the Italian canon which often depicted progress as a fight, but here, the fight is between each attraction for the attention of the working classes who frequent the amusements. In the same manner, Stella glorifies the proletariat but, in this image, they are at play rather than building the infrastructure of the future. Consequently, Stella places a uniquely American stamp on Futurism, portraying modern technology as enjoyable and entertaining.

This painting was both Stella's first major Futurist work and the first major American work in the style. Born and raised in Italy, as a young man Stella moved to New York to study medicine but, after two years, he transferred to the New York School of Art. In 1909 he returned to Italy where he met Boccioni, Carrà, and Severini and was influenced by Futurism, although he was also drawn to Fauvism's color palette and Cubism's fractured views. Describing his time in Europe, he noted that "Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism were in full swing...[there] was in the air the glamor of a battle". Stella played a key role in introducing Futurism to America, associating with the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz and collector Walter Arensberg and becoming close friends with Marcel Duchamp and Albert Gleizes. Shown at the 1913 Armory Show, Battle of Lights was initially viewed negatively by the public, but as art historian Sam Hunter writes, "Among the modern paintings at the Armory Show, Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, Picabia's Procession at Seville and Futurist Battle of Lights, Coney Island came to exert the most seminal influence on American painters".

Oil on canvas - Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

Antonio Sant\'Elia: Città Nuova (New City) (1914)

Città Nuova (New City)

Artist: Antonio Sant'Elia

This image is part of Sant'Elia's design for a new city and this reflects the architect's ideas of modernity. He expressed these in The Manifesto of Futurist Architecture in 1914, writing that "We must invent and rebuild our Futurist city like an immense and tumultuous shipyard, active, mobile, and everywhere dynamic, and the Futurist house like a gigantic machine". In this part of the design, elevators can be seen ascending the façade of the building, and modern modes of transportation, highways and trains, run alongside and into the complex. The building itself is multi-leveled and as well as more traditional vertical lines it is composed of elliptical and diagonal lines, which Sant'Elia wrote were "dynamic by their very nature".

Sant'Elia worked in the Milan public works department while still a student and was influenced by a number of architects including Adolf Loos, and Otto Wagner. He graduated with an architectural degree in 1912 and set up his own office where, along with finishing others' projects to make a living, he began work on this design. Exhibited at the Famiglia Artistica Gallery in 1914, his city was seen as a model of a new age.

His architectural concepts in the Manifesto were equally innovative, as architectural historian Reyner Banham calls them, "prophecies of...the essential philosophy of the International style...[and] the idea of mechanism...the Machine Aesthetic". Most of his designs were never built, as World War I erupted, and, like a number of Futurists, he enthusiastically enlisted, dying in battle in 1916 when he was 28 years old. His designs, nevertheless, preempted the styles of Art Deco and influenced later architects including Helmut Jahn, as seen in the James R. Thompson Center (1985) in Chicago and John Portman's Atlanta Marriott Marquis (1985). As Banham notes, "he was...the first to conceive the planning of the cities as fully three-dimensional structures."

Ink over black pencil on paper - Musei Civici, Como, Italy


Speeding Train

Artist: Ivo Pannaggi

As a train travels diagonally towards the viewer, it begins to dematerialize, fracturing into elliptical and diagonal planes of varying degrees of transparency. The work conveys the experience of a train passing by closely, reflecting the overwhelming sounds, sights, and motion. At the center left of the canvas concentric circles spinning in widening arcs create a vortex of velocity that seems to bear down on the viewer. Futurist artists saw trains as symbols of modern dynamism, but Pannaggi's image also reflects Italy's efforts to modernize in the 1920s, as the rail system was electrified, allowing for record-breaking speeds.

The artist joined the movement in 1919 when he presented two of his Futurist paintings at Casa d'Arte Bragaglia where Marinetti and Balla praised then. In 1922 with Vinicio Paladini, he wrote the Manifesto of Futurist Mechanical Art, advocating for an aesthetic "Based on MACHINES...Gears wipe away the misty and indecisive from our eyes, everything is more incisive, decisive, aristocratic and sharp. We feel mechanically, and we sense that we ourselves are also made of steel, we too are machines, we too have been mechanized by our surroundings".

Oil on canvas - Fondazione Carima-Museo Palazzo Ricci, Macerata, Italy

Alfredo Ambrosi: Aeroritratto di Mussolini aviatore (aerial portrait of Mussolini) (1930)

Aeroritratto di Mussolini aviatore (aerial portrait of Mussolini)

Artist: Alfredo Ambrosi

Ambrosi was a second-generation Futurist who focused on Aeropittura (Aeropainting), a significant theme within the movement throughout the 1930s. In this image he combines an aerial landscape of Rome with the profile of Mussolini, which juts heroically from the buildings and streets. This represents Mussolini as part of the capital city, woven into the fabric of the country and important to its success. Many Futurists were closely associated with Fascism and this image is clearly propagandistic in tone.

Launched in 1929 with a manifesto, Perspectives of Flight, Aeropittura celebrated the technology and excitement of flying, something directly experienced by most aeropainters. The manifesto was signed by Benedetta Cappa, Fortunato Depero, Gerardo Dottori, Fillia, Marinetti, Enrico Prampolini, Mino Somenzi and Tato and these artists noted that "The changing perspectives of flight constitute an absolutely new reality that has nothing in common with the reality traditionally constituted by a terrestrial perspective". Interpretations of Aeropittura varied from realistic landscapes to dynamic and abstract compositions.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Futurism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
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First published on 05 Feb 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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