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Umberto Boccioni Photo

Umberto Boccioni

Italian Painter, Sculptor, and Theoretician

Born: October 19, 1882 - Reggio Calabria, Italy
Died: August 17, 1916 - Sorte, Italy
Movements and Styles:
Futurism
,
Cubism
,
Neo-Impressionism
"What we want to do is to show the living object in its dynamic growth"
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Umberto Boccioni Signature
"Nothing is absolute in painting. What was truth for the painters of yesterday is but a falsehood today."
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Umberto Boccioni Signature
"To paint a human figure you must not paint it; you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere."
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Umberto Boccioni Signature
"Especially for us Italians, everything modern is synonymous with ugliness.. To a Venetian, Florentine, or Roman the modern movement is an aberration that must be fled from after first deriding or deploring it... Its is precisely this constant, disgraceful antagonism between past and present that is responsible for our political, social, and artistic weakness."
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Umberto Boccioni Signature
"[War is] a wonderful, marvelous, terrible thing. And in the mountains it seems like a battle with the infinite. Grandiose, immense, life and death. I am Happy."
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Umberto Boccioni Signature
"I shall leave this existence with a contempt for all that is not art."
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Umberto Boccioni Signature
"The time has passed for our sensations in painting to be whispered. We wish them in the future to sing and re-echo upon our canvasses in deafening and triumphant flourishes."
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Umberto Boccioni Signature
"(to erect)… a new altar throbbing with dynamism as pure and exultant as those which were elevated to divine mystery through religious contemplation."
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Umberto Boccioni Signature

Summary of Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni was one of the most prominent and influential artists among the Italian Futurists, an art movement that emerged in the years before the First World War. Boccioni was important not only in developing the movement's theories, but also in introducing the visual innovations that led to the dynamic, Cubist-like style now so closely associated with the group. Emerging first as a painter, Boccioni later produced some significant Futurist sculpture. He died while volunteering in the Italian army, aged only thirty-three, making him emblematic of the Futurists' celebration of the machine and the violent destructive force of modernity.

Accomplishments

  • Although Boccioni deserves a great amount of credit for evolving the style now associated with Italian Futurism, he first matured as a Neo-Impressionist painter, and was drawn to landscape and portrait subjects. It was not until he encountered Cubism that he developed a style that matched the ideology of dynamism and violent societal upheaval that lay at the heart of Futurism. Boccioni borrowed the geometric forms typical of the French style, and employed them to evoke crashing, startling sounds to accompany the depicted movement.
  • Boccioni believed that scientific advances and the experience of modernity demanded that the artist abandon the tradition of depicting static, legible objects. The challenge, he believed, was to represent movement, the experience of flux, and the inter-penetration of objects. Boccioni summed up this project with the phrase, "physical transcendentalism."
  • Despite his fascination with physical movement, Boccioni had a strong belief in the importance of intuition, an attitude he inherited from the writings of Henri Bergson and the Symbolist painters of the late-19th century. This shaped Boccioni's approach to depicting the modern world, encouraging him to give it symbolic, almost mythical dimensions that evoked the artist's emotions as much as the objective reality of modern life. In this respect, Boccioni's approach is very different from that of the Cubists, whose work was grounded in an attempt to closely describe the physical character of objects, albeit in a new way.

Biography of Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni Photo

Umberto Boccioni was born in 1882 in Reggio Calabria, a rural region on the southern tip of Italy. His parents had originated from the Romagna region, further north. As a young boy, Boccioni and his family moved frequently, eventually settling in the Sicilian city of Catania in 1897, where he received the bulk of his secondary education. There is little evidence to suggest he had any serious interest in the fine arts until 1901, at which time he moved from Catania to Rome and enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma (Academy of Fine Arts, Rome).



Progression of Art

Self-Portrait (1905)
1905

Self-Portrait

This Self-Portrait demonstrates Boccioni's style as a student at the Academy in Rome. Although it differs greatly from his mature Futurism, being far softer in its tone and brushwork, he cherished the picture and never sold it during his lifetime. It is typical of the period when he was moving from a style inspired by early Impressionism to a more volumetric approach suggested by study of works by Paul Cézanne.

Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The City Rises (1910)
1910

The City Rises

The City Rises is considered by many to be the very first truly Futurist painting. Boccioni took a year to complete it and it was exhibited throughout Europe shortly after it was finished. It testifies to the hold that Neo-Impressionism and Symbolism maintained on the movement's artists even after Futurism was inaugurated in 1909. It was not until around 1911 that Boccioni adapted elements of Cubism to create a distinct Futurist style. Nevertheless, The City Rises does capture the group's love of dynamism and their fondness for the modern city. A large horse races into the foreground while several workers struggle to gain control of it, suggesting a primeval conflict between humanity and beasts. 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.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Street Enters the House (1911)
1911

The Street Enters the House

The geometric elements and the perspectival distortion in The The Street Enters the House demonstrate the influence of Expressionism and Cubism on Boccioni. According to the original catalog entry for the work, "The dominating sensation is that which one would experience on opening a window: all life, and the noises of the street rush in at the same time as the movement and the reality of the objects outside."

Oil on canvas - Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany

States of Mind I: The Farewells (1911)
1911

States of Mind I: The Farewells

The Farewells was the first of Boccioni's three-part series, States of Mind, which has long been seen as one of the high points of the Futurist style in painting. The focal point of the picture is provided by movement itself - the locomotive, the airplane, the automobile: modern machines that gave new meaning to the word "speed." In this work, set in a train station, Boccioni captures the dynamism of movement and chaos, depicting people being consumed by, or fused with, the steam from the locomotive as it whizzes past.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913)
1913

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Although Boccioni was a painter first and foremost, his brief forays into sculpture are significant. The speed and fluidity of movement - what Boccioni called "a synthetic continuity" - is brilliantly captured in this bronze piece, with the human figure gliding through space, almost as if man himself is becoming machine, moving head-on into forceful winds. Possibly in homage to Auguste Rodin's Walking Man (1877-8), and the famous Greek statue Nike of Samothrace (220-190 B.C.), Boccioni left the sculpture without arms.

Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Charge of the Lancers (1915)
1915

The Charge of the Lancers

The Charge of the Lancers is the only known work by Boccioni that is devoted exclusively to the theme of war. Being a collage, Charge was also a rare departure for the artist in terms of medium. In previous works, Boccioni had used the figure of the horse as a symbol for work, but in this collage the horse becomes a symbol of war and natural strength, since it appears to be overcoming a horde of German bayonets. If, in fact, Boccioni was establishing the brute strength of the horse over man-made weapons, it would suggest a slight departure from the Futurist principles of Marinetti. This work also eerily prefigures Boccioni's own death from having been trampled by a horse.

Tempera and collage on pasteboard - Ricardo and Magda Jucker Collection, Milan


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Umberto Boccioni
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Friends & Personal Connections
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  • Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
    Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
  • Carlo Carrà
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  • Luigi Russolo
    Luigi Russolo
  • Giacomo Balla
    Giacomo Balla
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Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Umberto Boccioni Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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