Today, hearing the word ‘futurism’ – if you weren’t already familiar with the term – might bring to mind images of artificial intelligence, clean energy and robotic limbs. But a hundred years ago this was a word applied to something very specific: a deeply political art movement, which rejected paintings that simply looked pretty in a picture frame, and embraced those which actively challenged the status quo.
In 1909, the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti got onto the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro with a unique manifesto, which laid out his ideas about a movement he called Futurism. At the heart of this manifesto was a deep disdain for the traditions of old. Marinetti wanted the art world to break away from the lingering influences of the Italian Renaissance and Classical Ancient Rome, and instead embrace modernity, technology, urban expansion and industry. Marinetti’s manifesto attracted the attention of the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carr’, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini, who spent the next five years producing Futurist works that are still celebrated by the art world today.
Style and Influence
Futurist art was influenced by Neo-Impressionism and Cubism and is notable for its dynamism, bright colour palettes, and geometric, abstracted forms. The most important aspect of a Futurist artwork, though, is its subject matter. The paintings and sculptures that came out of this movement depicted modern technology (particularly cars and airplanes), architecture and industry, and busy urban spaces. Above all, Futurist artworks embraced speed – which is why many of the paintings produced by these artists give the impression of motion.
Ultimately though, Futurism proved short-lived. In 1914, the movement was rocked in two major ways: first, by the rift formed when the rival Milan and Florence Futurist art groups began to quarrel, and second, by the outbreak of the First World War. The movement had always had a problematic attitude towards violence, conflict and war – in Marinetti’s manifesto, he set out his opinion that destruction of the old order via warfare was the best way to make progress.
After the war, however, Marinetti took Futurism in an even more problematic direction when he re-established the movement – in spite of the death of some of its most influential members during the war, Boccioni included. In 1918, Marinetti established the Futurist Political Party, which was then absorbed by Benito Mussolinis Fascist Party. Though Mussolini himself had no great interest in art – which meant Marinetti never achieved his dream of establishing Futurism as the official state art of Fascist Italy – the movement has sadly been associated with Fascism ever since.
This week, though, the easyFrame team have been looking back at the heyday of early Futurism, and compiling a list of the most iconic paintings to emerge during those first five years. Read on to discover our favourites…
‘The City Rises’, Umberto Boccioni (1910)
Boccioni’s ‘The City Rises’ is considered by many art historians to be the first Futurist painting. At first glance, the painting appears too chaotic and abstract to make sense of, but let your eyes linger for a moment and youll be able to make out its subject matter. In the background we see buildings in the process of being carefully and rigorously constructed – a nod towards the forward-looking, industry-centric ethos of Futurism. The foreground, however, presents a swirling mess of action, as workers grapple with and try to take control of their horses. The powerful, blood red horse at the paintings centre lends it a violent energy, embodying the notion that Futurist painters like Boccioni did not consider progress possible without painful struggle.
‘Abstract Speed + Sounds’, Giacomo Balla (1913-14)
Like Boccioni’s ‘The City Rises’, the subject matter of Ballas ‘Abstract Speed + Sounds’ – an automobile – isn’t immediately clear. Balla chose to depict a car because for the Futurists it summed up everything that was right with the modern world – it was noisy, dirty, urban, and improved upon the human experience by allowing us to travel at far greater speeds than we were used to. In Ballas painting these characteristics are expressed through the motion blur effect, with the curving blue lines suggestive of sound waves.
‘The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli’, Carlo Carr’ (1911)
Carr’ painted ‘The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli’ to commemorate the death of the Italian political activist Angelo Galli. Galli was killed by police in 1906 during a general strike, and violence subsequently erupted between protestors and police at his funeral. Carr’s painting evokes a similar atmosphere to ‘The City Rises’, but the focus is more intensely political. At the centre of the image sits Galli’s red casket, barely held aloft in the chaos and violence swirling around it. The black banners are appropriately funereal, but take on a new significance when you consider that they are a popular anarchist symbol. As with many Futurist artworks, the perspective here is slanted, and the action skewed and blurred; evidently Carr’ aimed to unsettle and shake up the viewer, prompting them to consider the world from a new point of view.
Delving Deeper into Futurism
If you find yourself intrigued by the Futurist movement, there are several things you can do to get better acquainted with its works. Youll find Futurist artworks in galleries around the world – Boccionis sculpture ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’, for instance, resides in London’s Tate Modern. Its also worth noting that Futurism was not simply an art movement – so you can find out more by looking into the works of musicians such as Francesco Pratella, writers such as Farfa and Paolo Buzzi, and filmmakers such as Anton Bragaglia.
Another way to embrace Futurism is to bring Futurist artworks into your home. Browse online and you’ll find plenty of sites offering high-quality prints of iconic Futurist paintings such as ‘The City Rises’. Once youve got hold of your perfect print you can head to easyFrame for the perfect picture frame. Visit our Picture Frames & Mounts Page and you can enter the exact dimensions of your artwork to ensure that your frame fits.