An Introduction To Futurist Art In 12 Works

“Abstract Speed + Sound” by Giacomo Balla | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
“Abstract Speed + Sound” by Giacomo Balla | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
Photo of Courtney Stanley
10 September 2016

Futurism is the artistic and social movement that started in Italy in the early 1900s. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s 1909 Futurist Manifesto kickstarted the movement with its criticism of past artistic styles. Works of Futurism focus on movement, speed, technology, youth and violence. The movement embraced every medium of art, often portraying automobiles or industrial urban areas. In his manifesto, Marinetti said the Futurist artist would proudly display ‘the smear of madness’ in their works.

The City Rises (La città che sale) by Umberto Boccioni

Boccioni’s 1910 painting is widely considered the first Futurist painting. The work portrays the construction of a new city shown through war-like chaos—in the Futurist Manifesto, war is described as a means toward cultural progress. Influences of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism can be seen in his brushwork, which creates blurred images that convey a sense of quick movement. The fractured sense of perspective shows the influences of Cubism on the Futurist movement. The newly constructed suburbs were the subject of many of Boccioni’s paintings.

“The City Rises” by Umberto Boccioni | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni

This 1913 sculpture depicts a bronze, human-like figure expressing fluid movement. The aerodynamic figure is armless like the incomplete Walking Man sculpture or armless Nike of Samothrace, and it has no face. Boccioni created many paintings, but he found the lack of constraints when creating three-dimensional sculptures to be freeing and more effective for conveying his message. It’s a figure in motion rendered in geometric shapes. Today, the sculpture is shown on the Italian-issued 20 cent euro coin.

“Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” by Umberto Boccioni | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin by Gino Severini

Severini often painted figures in Parisian nightclubs, portraying a multi-sensory experience full of dynamic movement and sound in his works. In this painting, a curly-haired woman in a white, blue, and pink dress dances to music in the Bal Tabarin nightclub. Flags are draped around the top of the painting, showing off the nationalism that was often seen in Futurism paintings. Severini took influences from French Cubism, which used a collage-style of painting. In this work, he attached sequins to the dancers’ dresses.

Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin by Gino Severini | © gωen/Flickr

The Cyclist by Natalia Goncharova

Goncharova was an avant-garde painter, illustrator, set and costume designer, and writer, who was part of the Russian Futurist movement. Goncharova often incorporated symbols of traditional Russian folk art in her Cubist and Futurist works. In this painting, the fracturing around the cyclist’s body and the repeated images of his legs show quick movement—in Marinetti’s manifesto, he said, ‘…moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations.’ The lettering and symbols in the work show the multi-talented Goncharova’s interest in graphic design.

“The Cyclist” by Natalia Goncharova | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

Simultaneity, Woman on the Balcony (Simultaneità, La donna al balcone) by Carlo Carrà

Carrà only had a brief Futurist phase, but regardless, he was an important figure in the movement. He stopped creating exclusively Futurist works around the time World War I began, but he continued to blend the concepts of Futurism with his new focus: stillness. Futurism favors movement and speed, but Simultaneity, Woman on the Balcony is an example of one of Carrà’s abstract, movement-free paintings. The woman stands disjointed, looking out toward a building, standing behind the railing of the balcony.

“Simultaneity, Woman on the Balcony” by Carlo Carrà | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella

Stella was an Italian immigrant living in New York while the city experienced a huge surge of growth and change, which was often depicted in American Realist paintings. Stella took an interest in the ‘violently revolutionary’ Italian Futurist movement. The Brooklyn Bridge was a perfect modern architectural icon for Stella to paint, and it was, as he said, ‘the shrine containing all the efforts of the new civilization of America.’ The abstract work shows sweeping cables and high arches against a background of Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

“Brooklyn Bridge” by Joseph Stella | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

Abstract Speed + Sound by Giacomo Balla

When Balla painted Abstract Speed + Sound, he had become interested in depicting movement in his paintings, specifically in the form of racing automobiles. This 1913-14 painting was part of a collection of three that showed different perspectives of a racing car. The painting is bursting with movement and sound, shown by the fragmented interpretation and the bold, loud lines.

“Abstract Speed + Sound” by Giacomo Balla | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

Battle of Lights, Coney Island by Joseph Stella

In this painting, Stella again shows a typical scene of New York City presented with chaotic colors and movements. The 1913 painting is one of the best examples of American Futurist artwork. Stella said New York’s Coney Island was the ‘most intense arabesque,’ and a place of ‘violent, dangerous pleasures.’ The painting shows abstracted colors, machines, crowds, dancers and park rides.

“Battle of Lights, Coney Island” by Joseph Stella | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

The Revolt (La rivolta) by Luigi Russolo

The Futurist Manifesto said, ‘We want to glorify war—the only cure for the world—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.’ In this painting, Russolo refers to the tense political situation in Italy with bold colors and simple, violent figures. At the time, Italy was experiencing uprisings and unrest due to social injustice. In Russolo’s 1911 painting, red figures rise up together in a huge crowd, clashing with the twisted perspective of the somber-looking houses.

“The Revolt” by Luigi Russolo | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

The Miracle of Light While Flying by Gerardo Dottori

Dottori’s 1931 painting is shown from the perspective of an airplane passenger. The Futurists loved to show the progress of new technologies in their artwork, and this type of Futurist ‘aeropainting’ was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. The view from the plane is portrayed in abstract shapes and bold, fantastic colors with images of beautifully imagined rainbows.

“The Miracle of Light While Flying” by Gerardo Dottori | © Fair Use/WikiArt

Sea = Dancer (Mare = Ballerin) by Gino Severini

This 1914 painting is made with Divisionist techniques of stippled brushstrokes. The cylindrical shapes and flat planes showed a new approach to portraying three-dimensional space in paintings. This work was inspired by Severini’s trip to Anzio, Italy, a coastal town. He portrays the dancer and the sea as one fluid, inseparable being.

“Sea = Dancer” by Gino Severini | © Fair Use/WikiArt

Interventionist Demonstration by Carlo Carrà

Carrà was inspired by Cubist collages in his work Interventionist Demonstration. In this painting, he blends the Futurist Manifesto with innovative poetry by Guillaume Apollinaire to create a disorienting flurry of words and color. Carrà made this painting just after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and it was inspired by the vortex of propaganda leaflets that were dropped from airplanes over Milan’s Piazza del Duomo.

“Interventionist Demonstration” by Carlo Carrà | © Fair Use/WikiArt

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