"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."
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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."
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Umbro Apollonio
"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... It 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
"The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It shall simply be the dynamic sensation itself. Indeed, all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing... We would at any price re-enter into life."
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Manifesto of Futurist Painters, April 1910

Summary of Futurism

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. Focus was placed on creating a unique and dynamic vision of the future and artists incorporated portrayals of urban landscapes as well as new technologies such as trains, cars, and airplanes into their depictions. Speed, violence, and the working classes were all glorified by the group as ways to advance change and their work covered a wide variety of artforms, including architecture, sculpture, literature, theatre, music, and even food.

Futurism was invented, and predominantly based, in Italy, led by the charismatic poet Marinetti. The group was at its most influential and active between 1909 and 1914 but was re-started by Marinetti after the end of the First World War. This revival attracted new artists and became known as second generation Futurism. Although most prominent in Italy, Futurist ideas were utilized by artists in Britain (informing Vorticism), the US and Japan and Futurist works were displayed all over Europe. Russian Futurism is usually considered a separate movement, although some Russian Futurists did engage with the earlier Italian movement. Futurism anticipated the aesthetics of Art Deco as well as influencing Dada and German Expressionism.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • A key focus of the Futurists was the depiction of movement, or dynamism. The group developed a number of novel techniques to express speed and motion, including blurring, repetition, and the use of lines of force. This last method was adapted from the work of the Cubists and the inclusion of such lines became a feature of Futurist images.
  • The Futurists published a huge number of different manifestos, using them to communicate their aesthetic, political, and social ideals. Although both the Realists and Symbolists had previously produced similar documents, the sheer scale with which the Futurists created and disseminated their manifestos was unprecedented, allowing them to transmit their ideas to a wider audience. To assist them logistically with their distribution, the group made use of some of the new technologies they depicted in their art including advancements in mass media, printing, and transportation.
  • Many Italian Futurists supported Fascism and parallels can be drawn between the two movements. Like the Fascists, the Futurists were strongly patriotic, excited by violence and opposed to parliamentary democracy. When Mussolini took power in 1922 it brought Futurism official acceptance, but, later, this adversely affected many of the artists as they became tainted by association.

Overview of Futurism

Detail of <i>Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin</i> (1912) by Gino Severini

An automobile accident had a transforming effect on Marinetti, who famously said, "a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace," as the then unknown writer launched Italy’s most important modern art movement.

Key Artists

  • 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.
  • Antonio Sant'Elia was an Italian architect during the first part of the twentieth century, and is commonly associated with the Futurist movement. Although many of his designs were never built, Sant'Elia's monolithic and monumental sketches survive and remain influential today.
  • Stella's images of industrial America - especially of New York City landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge are depicted with the power and honesty that were revolutionary. He was one of the founders and leaders in the Precisionism movement.
  • Gino Severini was an Italian painter, leading member of the Futurist movement, and key connection between the Italian and French avant garde. He was also associated with Neoclassicism and the Return to Order in the decade after the First World War.
  • Carlo Carra was 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 on art.
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Do Not Miss

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • After the Russian Revolution, collaborative groups formed in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, publishing journals, organizing debates, and curating exhibitions of their work. Artists such as Natalya Goncharova, Kasimir Malevich, and Vladimir Mayakovsky reject past approaches and looked to Russian icongraphy, French Cubism, and the avant-garde of Europe for new directions for art-making. The movement was mostly not connected to Italian Futurism.

Important Art and Artists of Futurism

The City Rises (1910)

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.

Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (1910-11)

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."

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912)

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".

Useful Resources on Futurism

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Futurism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Feb 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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