Futurism Movement and Chronology

Synopsis

The most important Italian avant-garde art movement of the 20th century, Futurism celebrated advanced technology and urban modernity. Committed to the new, its members wished to destroy older forms of culture and to demonstrate the beauty of modern life - the beauty of the machine, speed, violence and change. Although the movement did foster some architecture, most of its adherents were artists who worked in traditional media such as painting and sculpture, and in an eclectic range of styles inspired by Post-Impressionism. Nevertheless, they were interested in embracing popular media and new technologies to communicate their ideas. Their enthusiasm for modernity and the machine ultimately led them to celebrate the arrival of the First World War. By its end the group was largely spent as an important avant-garde, though it continued through the 1920s, and, during that time several of its members went on to embrace Fascism, making Futurism the only twentieth century avant-garde to have embraced far right politics.

Key Points

The Futurists were fascinated by the problems of representing modern experience, and strived to have their paintings evoke all kinds of sensations - and not merely those visible to the eye. At its best, Futurist art brings to mind the noise, heat and even the smell of the metropolis.
Unlike many other modern art movements, such as Impressionism and Pointillism, Futurism was not immediately identified with a distinctive style. Instead its adherents worked in an eclectic manner, borrowing from various aspects of Post-Impressionism, including Symbolism and Divisionism. It was not until 1911 that a distinctive Futurist style emerged, and then it was a product of Cubist influence.
The Futurists were fascinated by new visual technology, in particular chrono-photography, a predecessor of animation and cinema that allowed the movement of an object to be shown across a sequence of frames. This technology was an important influence on their approach to showing movement in painting, encouraging an abstract art with rhythmic, pulsating qualities.

Beginnings

Futurism began its transformation of Italian culture on February 20th, 1909, with the publication of the Futurist Manifesto, authored by writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Umberto Boccioni (left) and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1910 It appeared on the front page of Le Figaro, which was then the largest circulation newspaper in France, and the stunt signaled the movement's desire to employ modern, popular means of communication to spread its ideas. The group would issue more manifestos as the years passed, but this summed up their spirit, celebrating the "machine age", the triumph of technology over nature, and opposing earlier artistic traditions. Marinetti's ideas drew the support of artists Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, and Carlo Carrà, who believed that they could be translated into a modern, figurative art which explored properties of space and movement. The movement initially centered in Milan, but it spread quickly to Turin and Naples, and over subsequent years Marinetti vigorously promoted it abroad.

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Concepts and Styles

The Italian group was slow to develop a distinct style. In the years prior to the emergence of the movement, its members had worked in an eclectic range of styles inspired by Post-Impressionism, and they continued to do so. Severini was typical in his interest in Divisionism, which involved breaking down light and color into a series of stippled dots and stripes, and fracturing the picture plane into segments to achieve an ambiguous sense of depth. Divisionism was rooted in the color theory of the 19th century, and Pointillist work of painters such as Georges Seurat.

Futurist Monthly Magazine

In 1911, Futurist paintings were exhibited in Milan at the Mostra d'arte libera, and invitations were extended to "all those who want to assert something new, that is to say far from imitations, derivations and falsifications." The paintings featured threadlike brushstrokes and highly keyed color that depicted space as fragmented and fractured. Subjects and themes focused on technology, speed, and violence, rather than portraits or simple landscapes. Among the paintings was Boccioni's The City Rises (1910), a picture which can claim to be the first Futurist painting by virtue of its advanced, Cubist-influenced style. Public reaction was mixed. French critics from literary and artistic circles expressed hostility, while many praised the innovative content.

Boccioni's encounter with Cubist painting in Paris had an important influence on him, and he carried this back to his peers in Italy. Nevertheless, the Futurists claimed to reject the style, since they believed it was too preoccupied by static objects, and not enough by the movement of the modern world. It was their fascination with movement that led to their interest in chrono-photography. Balla was particularly enthusiastic about the technology, and his pictures sometimes evoke fast-paced animation, with objects blurred by movement. As stated by the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, "On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular." Rather than perceiving an action as a performance of a single limb, Futurists viewed action as the convergence in time and space of multiple extremities.

Futurist artists in 1913; from left - Decio Cinti, Luigi Russolo, Armando Mazza, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Paolo Buzzi, and Umberto Boccioni

Later Developments

In 1913, Boccioni used sculpture to further articulate Futurist dynamism. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) exemplifies vigorous action as well as the relationship between object and environment. The piece was a breakthrough for the Futurist movement, but after 1913 the movement began to break apart as its members developed their own personal positions. In 1915, Italy entered World War I; by its end, Boccioni and the Futurist architect Antonia Sant'Elia perished. Following the war, the movement's center shifted from Milan to Rome; Severini continued to paint in the distinctive Futurist style, and the movement remained active in the 1920s, but the energy had passed from it.

Nevertheless, Futurism sparked important developments outside Italy. A synthesis of Parisian Cubism and Italian Futurism was particularly influential in Russia from around 1912 until 1920, inspiring artists including Kazimir Malevich, Liubov Popova, Natalia Goncharova and David Burliuk. The developments in Russia made the movement very distinct from the Italian strain, and different aspects of it are often described as Rayonist, or Cubo-Futurist. Cubo-Futurism was also an influence on English art, where it gave rise to the Vorticist movement, which embraced philosopher T.E. Hulme, poet Ezra Pound, and artists Christopher Nevinson, Wyndham Lewis, David Bomberg and Jacob Epstein. Although the impact of Italian Futurism was concentrated in the visual arts, it did inspire artists in other media: Vladimir Mayakovsky was important in developing a Futurist literature in Russia; the Italian architect Antonio Sant'Elia developed a Futurist architecture, and is said to have penned a manifesto on the subject (his designs may have influenced the sets of Ridley Scott's film Bladerunner (1982)); and Luigi Russolo shifted from painting to creating musical instruments, and later wrote the manifesto "the Art of Noises" (1913), which has been a significant reference point for avant-garde music ever since. Although much of the energy had left the movement by the 1920s, the Futurist aesthetic also became part of the mix of modernist styles that inspired Art Deco.



Original content written by The Art Story Contributors
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QUOTES

"We want to fight ferociously against the fanatical, unconscious and snobbish religion of the past, which is nourished by the evil influence of museums. We rebel against the supine admiration of old canvases, old statues and old objects, and against the enthusiasm for all that is worm-eaten, dirty and corroded by time; we believe that the common contempt for everything young, new and palpitating with life is unjust and criminal."
- Filippo Marinetti

"If we paint the phases of an uprising, the crowd bristling with fists and noisy cavalry assaults will be translated on the canvas into bands of lines corresponding to all the forces in conflict, following the painting's laws of general violence. These lines of force must envelop the spectator and carry him away; he himself must be in some way obliged to grapple with the figures in the picture. All the objects, according to physical transcendentalism, tend towards the infinite through their force-lines, to bring the work of art back to true painting. We interpret nature by presenting these lines on the canvas as the origins or prolongations of the rhythms which the objects impress on our sensibilities."
- Apollonio

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Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
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Pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism is a mode of art-making, first developed in 1880s France, in which all of the paint is applied to the surface as tiny points or daubs of color. Based on the laws of color theory, pointillism relies on the viewer's eye to mix the disparate dots into the lines, shapes, shadings, and color ranges of the full scene.

Modern Art Information Pointillism
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.

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Divisionism
Divisionism
Divisionism was the characteristic style in Neo-Impressionist painting defined by the separation of colors into individual dots or patches which interacted optically. Georges Seurat founded the style and believed it achieved the maximum luminosity scientifically possible.

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Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Cubism
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was an Italian poet and editor, the founder of the Futurist movement and a fascist ideologue. He was the author of the Futurist Manifesto, which he wrote in 1908. In early 1918 he founded the Futurist Political Party.

Modern Art Information Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni was an Italian painter and sculptor. Like the other Futurists, his work centered on the portrayal of movement (dynamism), speed, and technology. After moving to Milan in 1907, he became acquainted with the Futurists, including the famous poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and became one of the movement's main theorists.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Umberto Boccioni
Giacomo Balla
Giacomo Balla
Giacomo Balla was an Italian artist. Influenced by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Balla adopted the Futurist style, creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed. He was signatory to the Futurist Manifesto in 1910. He also taught Umberto Boccioni.

Modern Art Information Giacomo Balla
Gino Severini
Gino Severini
Gino Severini was an Italian painter and a leading member of the Futurist movement. He was associated with neo-classicism and the pictorial return to order in the decade after the First World War. During his career he worked in a variety of media, including mosaic and fresco.

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Carlo Carra
Carlo Carra
Carlo Carra was an Italian painter - a leading figure of the Futurist movement that flourished in Italy during the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition to his many paintings, he wrote a number of books concerning art. He taught for many years in Milan.

Modern Art Information Carlo Carra
Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat
Georges-Pierre Seurat was a French painter who gave rise to the Post- and Neo-Impressionist artistic styles of the late nineteenth century. Seurat's greatest contribution to modern art was his development of Pointillism, a style of painting in which small dots of paint were applied to create a cohesive image. Combining the science of optics with painterly emotion, Pointillism evoked a visual harmony never before seen in modern art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Georges Seurat
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich was a Russian modernist painter and theorist who founded Suprematism. Along with his painting Black Square, his mature works feature simple geometric shapes on blank backgrounds.
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Lyubov Popova
Lyubov Popova
Lyubov Popova was an eminent Russian avant-garde artist, painter, and designer. Her work was important for several modern styles, including Cubism, Suprematism, and Constructivism.

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Natalia Goncharova
Natalia Goncharova
Natalia Goncharova was a Russian Cubo-Futurist artist, who initially worked with the Suprematists and Constructivists. She fled Soviet Russia for France, where she promoted the principles of the Russian avant-garde as they were defined by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko.

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David Burliuk
David Burliuk
David Burliuk was a Russian Futurist poet and painter. He was responsible for intensifying the debate on the primary function of fine art, believing deeply in the power of art as a reforming social force.

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Rayonism
Rayonism
Rayonism, sometimes refered to as rayism, was an abstract style of painting developed by Russian artists Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova. The term was derived from the use of dynamic rays of contrasting color that represented lines of reflected light. Rayonism was a crucial step in the development of Russian abstract art.

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Vorticism
Vorticism
Vorticism was a short-lived British art movement of the early twentieth century. The Vorticism group began with the Rebel Art Centre, which Wyndham Lewis and others established after disagreeing with Omega Workshops founder Roger Fry.

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Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound, one of the most important modern poets in America, emphasized images and pithiness over traditional verse structures and rhyme schemes. He was an expatriate and espoused at times controversial political beliefs.

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Christopher Nevinson
Christopher Nevinson
Christopher Nevinson was an English painter. Richard Nevinson is one of the most famous war artists. He was friends with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the leader of the Italian Futurists, and the radical English writer and artist Percy Wyndham Lewis, who founded the short-lived Rebel Art Centre.

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Wyndham Lewis
Wyndham Lewis
Wyndham Lewis was a twentieth-century English artist and author, founder of the English Rebel Art Centre, and the co-founder of the short-lived Vorticist art movement, which is commonly considered the English counterpart to the more well-known Italian Futurist movement, although neither movement claimed any association with the other. Politically, Lewis was a polarizing figure in literary circles, given his sympathy for Fascism and in particular Adolf Hitler, whom Lewis portrayed as a sympathetic victim of communist oppression in his book "Hitler."

Modern Art Information Wyndham Lewis
David Bomberg
David Bomberg
David Bomberg was an English painter and one of the Whitechapel Boys. Bomberg painted a series of complex geometric compositions combining the influences of cubism and futurism in the years immediately preceding World War I.

Modern Art Information David Bomberg
Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein was an American-born British sculptor who helped pioneer modern sculpture. He often produced controversial works, which challenged taboos on what was appropriate subject matter for public artworks. He also made paintings and drawings.

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Vladimir Mayakovsky
Vladimir Mayakovsky
Vladimir Mayakovsky was prominent in the Russian literary Futurism movement. He was deeply committed to the social as well as artistic reform of the Russian society.

Modern Art Information Vladimir Mayakovsky
Art Deco
Art Deco
Art Deco was an eclectic style that flourished in the 1920s and '30s and influenced art, architecture and design. It blended a love of modernity - expressed through geometric shapes and streamlined forms - with references to the classical past and to exotic locations. Its elegant sophistication made it the fashionable style of the wealthy during its heyday.

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The City Rises
The City Rises

Title: The City Rises (1910)

Artist: Umberto Boccioni

Artwork Description & Analysis: The City Rises is often considered to be the first Futurist painting. Here, Boccioni illustrates the construction of a modern city. The chaos and movement in the piece resemble a war scene as indeed war was presented in the Futurist Manifesto as the only means toward cultural progress. The large horse races into the foreground while several workers struggle to gain control, indicating tension between human and animal. The horse and figures are blurred, communicating rapid movement while other elements, such as the buildings in the background, are rendered more realistically. At the same time, the perspective teeters dramatically in different sections of the painting. The work shows influences of Cubism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism, revealed in the brushstrokes and fractured representation of space.


Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash
Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash

Title: Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912)

Artist: Giacomo Balla

Artwork Description & Analysis: Balla was fascinated by chrono-photography, a vintage technique whereby movement is demonstrated across several frames. This encouraged Balla to find new ways of representing movement in painting, and Dynamism is perhaps his most famous experiment. The work shows a woman walking a small black dog, the movement collapsed into a single instant. Displaying a close-up of the feet, Balla articulates action in process by combining opaque and semi-transparent shapes.


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

The Cyclist
The Cyclist

Title: The Cyclist (1913)

Artist: Natalya Goncharova

Artwork Description & Analysis: Goncharova was a leading figure in the pre-war Russian avant-garde, a painter, illustrator, set and costume designer, and writer. Husband of another leading Russian artist, Mikhail Larionov, she was a prominent figure in the Donkey's Tail group, who were important in spreading the influence of Cubo-Futurism in Russia. She was initially inspired by Russian folk art, and she often incorporating traditional motifs into pictures styled in a Cubist manner. Here, the cyclist's legs and feet have been multiplied, indicating the speed of an object in motion. As noted in the Futurist Manifesto, "On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations." The text in the painting points to Goncharova's interest in writing and graphic design.


Oil on canvas - The Russian Museum, St.Petersburg

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Title: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913)

Artist: Umberto Boccioni

Artwork Description & Analysis: Frustrated by the constraints of the canvas, Boccioni found it more effective to explain Futurist principles of movement in a three-dimensional form. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space captures the essence of a figure in motion, rendered in geometrical forms that convey an effortless grace and speed. Draped clothing appears to blow in the wind as the ambiguous figure strides forward, creating an aerodynamic effect. As homage to Auguste Rodin, Boccioni's sculpture is armless, referencing the "incomplete" Walking Man and the classical Greek statue, Nike of Samothrace.


Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, NY

Sea = Dancer (Mare = Ballerina)
Sea = Dancer (Mare = Ballerina)

Title: Sea = Dancer (Mare = Ballerina) (1914)

Artist: Gino Severini

Artwork Description & Analysis: Inspired by his voyage through coastal Anzio, Severini created this painting to draw a parallel between the sea and the human form. The figure is undistinguished from the water, becoming an inseparable component of the contiguous surroundings. Severini incorporates the Divisionist technique of stippled brushstrokes; flat planes and cylindrical shapes converge, shattering traditional approaches to representing three-dimensional space.


Oil on canvas with artist's painted frame - Guggenheim

Interventionist Manifesto
Interventionist Manifesto

Title: Interventionist Manifesto (1953-54)

Artist: Carlo Carrà

Artwork Description & Analysis: Here, inspired by Cubist experiments in the same vein, Carlo Carra introduces collage to the Futurist repertoire technique. This piece blends Filippo Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto with innovative poetry by Guillaume Apollinaire, resulting in a disorienting composition. Collage elements crack the surface into various planes, creating new perceptions of depth. The juxtaposition of phrases and vivid planes of color read as a kind of Futurist propaganda.


Tempera and collage on cardboard - Private Collection, Milan

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.