Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni
Dinamismo del ciclista
Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni
Sviluppo della bottiglia nello spazio
Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space' 1913
Umberto Boccioni
1882, Reggio Calabria, 1916, Verona,


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).

It was in Rome that Boccioni first connected with his future Futurist collaborator Gino Severini. Both studied under Giacomo Balla, who was renowned as a Divisionist painter, and Boccioni became a loyal student of the style. During these years he also continued his travels in Italy and beyond; he visited Paris for an extended period, where he encountered Impressionism for the first time, and followed this with a sojourn to Russia.
During this period, much of the art being produced in Italy was, to Boccioni's mind, rather provincial. In the city of Milan, however, there existed a forward-thinking society of young artists known as the Famiglia Artistica. So, in 1907, Boccioni moved to Milan, where he met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the Symbolist poet and theorist. Two years later, on February 20, 1909, Marinetti published the first Futurist manifesto on the front page of the established French newspaper Le Figaro. It quickly attracted followers, among them Boccioni, Severini, Balla, Carlo Carra and Luigi Russolo. But in the years that followed, Boccioni proved to be Futurism's most outspoken proponent and foremost theorist, not to mention primarily responsible for applying Marinetti's example to the visual arts.
The beginning of Futurism coincided with Boccioni's most prolific period as an artist. On February 11, 1910, under the leadership of Boccioni, the "Manifesto of Futurist Painters" was published by Marinetti's magazine Poesia, and was signed by Severini, Balla and others. Addressed to the "Young Artists of Italy," this new manifesto, much like its predecessor, attacked institutions like museums and libraries, which the Futurists now considered redundant. Boccioni and the Futurists were aiming at one of the Italy's principle claims to prestige, its classical past, which they considered a hindrance to the country's development as a modern power.
Later on in the same year Boccioni published the "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting," also through Marinetti's Poesia. He declared "That all subjects previously used must be swept aside in order to express our whirling life of steel, of pride, of fever and of speed."
As a young artist, Boccioni had chosen subjects that simply caught his eye, but as a Futurist, he selected subjects as vehicles for painterly theories. One subject that often inspired him was the city, and it is explored in works like The Forces of the Street and The Street Enters the House (both 1911).
In 1912, the Futurist group held an impressive exhibition of paintings at the Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. The centerpiece of Boccioni's contribution was a group of three paintings entitled States of Mind I-III: The Farewells, Those Who Stay, and Those Who Go (all 1911), considered by many to be the artist's most ambitious work thus far. In States of Mind, he attempted to abandon the dependence on any descriptive reality, opting instead to, as he put it, "[have the] colors and forms ... express themselves." In short, Boccioni designed these works to express the Futurist mind-set, in which the past had no bearing on how the artist viewed the world around him.
While in Paris, Boccioni visited various artists' studios, including those of Braque, Brancusi, Archipenko and Duchamp-Villon. What he saw encouraged him to apply his principles to sculpture, resulting in works like The Development of a Bottle in Space (1912) and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913). This new interest also led him to write the "Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture."

In 1913, Boccioni began contributing to the experimental newspaper Lacerba, which had been founded by the Florentine author and Futurist Giovanni Papini (Lacerba published 70 issues between January 1, 1913 and May 22, 1915). With this newspaper, Boccioni and others now had a publication exclusively devoted to promoting the movement's ideas. In April of the following year, Boccioni published his book Futurist Painting and Sculpture, by far the most comprehensive account of Futurist artistic theory written by a founding member.
In 1914, the Great War began and quickly spread throughout Europe, and its remarkable ferocity very closely resembled the cleansing violence that the Futurists had long called for. So, in July 1915, Boccioni, along with Marinetti, Russolo and several other Futurists, enrolled with the Lombard Volunteer Cyclist Battalion.
The battalion was disbanded in December later that year and during a leave of absence from the war, Boccioni continued to paint, write and lecture. He was called back into service in June 1916, and stationed outside Verona with an artillery brigade. During a training exercise, Boccioni was thrown from his horse and trampled. Still a young man of just thirty-three, Boccioni succumbed to injuries and died a day later on August 17.


Although the Futurist movement is most associated with its founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, its artistic direction owes much to Umberto Boccioni. He is responsible for producing the seminal texts on Futurist art, and was by and large the movement's most talented, technically proficient, and best educated artist. Despite the brevity of his career, he became a prolific student of avant-garde styles, while simultaneously striving to create something entirely novel: an art that uniquely expressed the speed, dynamism and tragedy of modern-day life.

Futurism began its transformation of Italian culture on February 20th, 1909, with the publication of the Futurist Manifesto, authored by writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.
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 Carrą, 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.
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 the Pointillist works of painters such as Georges Seurat.

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.

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 Antonio 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.