An Insistence of Change: The Energy And Intent Behind the Outset of Italian Futurism

When Étienne-Jules Marey developed a way of recording several phases of movement in one photograph in 1882, it became one of the key ideas behind the onset of Futurism in the early 20th century. 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. They emphasized on creating a unique and dynamic vision of the future with speed, technology, youth, violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane, and the industrial city. The birth of Futurism was declared with an incendiary manifesto appeared in La gazzetta dell’Emilia on 5th February, 1909 by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The article was then republished in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro on Saturday 20 February 1909. According to the manifesto, Italy was to be delivered from its smelly gangrene of professors, archeologists, ciceroni and antiquarians and the Futurists would “sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness”. Marinetti expressed a passionate loathing for everything old, especially political and artistic tradition. “We want no part of it, the past”, he wrote, “we the young and strong Futurists!” The Futurists admired speed and had a radical agenda of political modernization and were prepared to incite violence and embrace conflict to promote their goal.

Futurism was originated and predominantly based in Italy led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and was soon joined by the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini and the composer Luigi Russolo. They saw “a new beauty, the beauty of speed”. A “racing motor car” was, they claimed, “more beautiful” than the classical Greek sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace.

States of Mind- The Farewells by Umberto Boccioni

Cubism contributed to the formation of Italian Futurism’s artistic style. Futurism’s first great statement in paint, Boccioni’s States of Mind triptych (The Farewell, Those who Go and Those who Stays), as described in Futurism by Richard Humphreys, “made his first great statement of Futurist painting, bringing his interests in Bergson, Cubism and the individual’s complex experience of the modern world together in what has been described as one of the ‘minor masterpieces’ of early twentieth century painting.” Boccioni painted two version of States of Mind. First in the summer of 1911 and another in Autumn of that same year after he had encountered Cubism on a trip to Paris. This second version adopts the fragmented, multiple viewpoints of Cubism while also attempting to portray the States of Mind. With its rush of line and color it enclosed one of Futurism’s most influential artistic philosophies. Boccioni, later, developed these ideas at length in his book, Pittura scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism) (1914).

States of Mind (Stati d’animo) triptych, which Boccioni said, expressed departure and arrival at a railroad station were originally purchased by Marinetti, until Nelson Rockefeller acquired them from his widow and later donated them to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Farewells, the center canvas, captures the chaos of departure at the station. While Those Who Go expresses the loneliness and dazed confusion of departing passengers. And the final part of the tritych, Those Who Stays, coveys the melancholy of those who have been left behind. The painting was shown as a part of European tour of Futurist art between 1912 to 1913.

Although, most prominently in Italy, Futurist ideas were quickly spread across Europe, America and Asia. The ideas were utilized by artists in France, Britain, Russia, US and Japan and Futurist works were displayed all over Europe. Even though Russian Futurism is usually considered a separate movement, some Russian Futurists did engage with the earlier Italian movement. Futurist’s Avant-Garde ideas were embraced by the Vorticists and Rayonists as well.

Featured Painting: Natalia Goncharova – Cyclist (Goncharova, 1913)

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