Artist Stories

Before Boccioni Turned Futurist

Magda Michalska 10 January 2017 min Read

Very few artists developed their styles early in the careers. Most of them were searching for the new means of expression for their entire lives, often making unexpected turns and changes. One of such artists was Umberto Boccioni, a leader of the Italian Futurists who were a group of radicals who wanted to reconstruct the world. However, before Boccioni denied history and anything that had come before Futurists, his style drew from...


[caption id="attachment_3069" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Umberto Boccioni, Self-portrait, 1905 Umberto Boccioni, Self-portrait, 1905, Palazzo Brera, Milan[/caption] This self-portrait illustrates Boccioni as a student at the Academy in Rome.  The brushwork is soft and the tone mild, the entire composition resembles many of the Impressionist portraits that Boccioni must have seen. He was very attached to this painting, he never sold it although his style completely changed.


[caption id="attachment_3071" align="aligncenter" width="586"]Umberto Boccioni, April Evening, 1908, Museo Civico di Belle Arti, Lugano Umberto Boccioni, April Evening, 1908, MASI Lugano[/caption] Divisionism was an Italian response to the French Post-Impressionism. Divisionists, inspired by the scientific theories about complementary colours and the works of Seurat and Signac, created works shimmering with light. However, instead of small dots of the French painters, they applied thin and elongated lines of paint, the so-called 'filaments'. You can see them in the trees, sky, grass and the wall of the orchard.


[caption id="attachment_3070" align="aligncenter" width="494"]Umberto Boccioni, Nocturn, 1911, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Turin Umberto Boccioni, Nocturn, 1911, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Turin[/caption] Look at the dramatic change of palette,which on this painting is much darker and charged with emotion. The colours are not verisimilar, Boccioni chose them to express better the atmosphere of the mystery of the night. The feeling of doom or oppression is induced by the contorted buildings which are so close to one another that it seems there is no way out.


[caption id="attachment_3072" align="aligncenter" width="593"]Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a man's head, 1913, Private collection Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a man's head, 1913, Private collection[/caption] Boccioni's searches are heading towards the ultimate discovery/ creation of Futurism which, on the contrary to Cubism, would not show geometric volumes over time but strive to depict how environment and time shape the forms. Here, however, we can see clearly the influence of Braque's papier collé, look at the pieces of newspaper, and Picasso's studies of human forms.