Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni self-portrait (1905)
Born 19 October 1882 (1882-10-19)
Reggio Calabria, Italy
Died 17 August 1916(1916-08-17) (aged 33)
Verona, Italy
Nationality Italian
Education Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma
Notable work Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
The City Rises
The Street Enters the House
Movement Futurism

Umberto Boccioni (Italian pronunciation: [umˈbɛrto botˈtʃoːni]; 19 October 1882 – 17 August 1916) was an influential Italian painter and sculptor. He helped shape the revolutionary aesthetic of the Futurism movement as one of its principal figures. Despite his short life, his approach to the dynamism of form and the deconstruction of solid mass guided artists long after his death.[1] His works are held by many public art museums, and in 1988 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York organized a major retrospective of 100 pieces.[2]


Umberto Boccioni was born on 19 October 1882 in Reggio Calabria. His father was a minor government employee, originally from the Romagna region in the north, and his job included frequent reassignments throughout Italy. The family soon relocated further north, and Umberto and his older sister Amelia grew up largely in Forlì (Emilia-Romagna), Genoa and finally Padua. At the age of 15, in 1897, Umberto and his father moved to Catania, Sicily, where he would finish school. Some time after 1898, he moved to Rome and studied art at the Scuola Libera del Nudo of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma.[3]

The little known about his years in Rome is found in the autobiography of his friend Gino Severini (1883-1966), who recalled their meeting in 1901 and mutual interest in Nietzsche, rebellion, life experiences and socialism. Boccioni's writings at this time already express the combination of outrage and irony that would become a lifelong characteristic. His critical and rebellious nature, and overall intellectual ability, would contribute substantially to the development of the Futurism movement. After building a foundation of skills, having studied the classics through Impressionism, both he and Severini became students of Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), a painter focusing on the modern Divisionist technique, painting with divided rather than mixed color and breaking the painted surface into a field of stippled dots and stripes. Severini wrote "It was a great stroke of luck for us to meet such a man, whose direction was decisive of all our careers."[3]

Self portrait, 1905, oil on canvas

In 1906, he briefly moved to Paris, where he studied Impressionist and Post-Impressionist styles, before visiting Russia for three months, getting a first-hand view of the civil unrest and governmental crackdowns. Returning to Italy in 1907, he briefly took drawing classes at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Venice. He had first visited the Famiglia Artistica, a society for artists in Milan, in 1901.

Boccioni moved to Milan in 1907. There, early in 1908, he met the Divisionist painter Gaetano Previati. In early 1910 he met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who had already published his Manifesto del Futurismo ("Manifesto of Futurism") in the previous year.[4] On 11 February 1910 Boccioni, with Balla, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo and Severini, signed the Manifesto dei pittori futuristi ("Manifesto of Futurist painters"), and on 8 March he read the manifesto at the Politeama Chiarella theatre in Turin.[4][5]

Boccioni became the main theorist of the artistic movement.[6] "Only when Boccioni, Severini and a few other Futurists traveled to Paris and saw what Braque and Picasso had been doing did the movement begin to take real shape."[7] He also decided to be a sculptor after he visited various studios in Paris, in 1912, including those of Braque, Archipenko, Brâncuși, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and, probably, Medardo Rosso. In 1912 he exhibited some paintings together with other Italian futurists at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, and the following year returned to show his sculptures at the Galerie La Boétie: all related to the elaboration of what Boccioni had seen in Paris, they in their turn probably influenced the Cubist sculptors, especially Duchamp-Villon.

Umberto Boccioni, 1913, Synthèse du dynamisme humain (Synthesis of Human Dynamism), sculpture destroyed

"In the brief life span of the Italian Futurist movement, the short-lived Umberto Boccioni was a blazing comet. ... Boccioni was a fiery theoretician of the movement, drafting two Futurist manifestoes in 1910 and 1912 that exalted the force and energy of contemporary life. They called for an art that glorified speed, violence and the machine age, one that above all reflected the dynamism of an engine-driven civilization."[8] --Grace Glueck, New York Times Art Critic

In 1914 he published Pittura e scultura futuriste (dinamismo plastico) explaining the aesthetics of the group:

"While the impressionists paint a picture to give one particular moment and subordinate the life of the picture to its resemblance to this moment, we synthesize every moment (time, place, form, color-tone) and thus paint the picture.

He exhibited in London, together with the group, in 1912 (Sackville Gallery) and 1914 (Doré Gallery): the two exhibitions made a deep impression on a number of young English artists, in particular C.R.W. Nevinson, who joined the movement. Others aligned themselves instead to its British equivalent, Vorticism, led by Wyndham Lewis.

"Boccioni's gift was to bring a fresh eye to reality in ways that, we now recognise, defined the nature of the modern movement in the visual arts and literature, too."[9] --Michael Glover (art critic, The Independent)

In May 1915, the "Lombard Battalion volunteers Cyclists and Motorists", which Boccioni was also part of, set off in early June from Milan to Gallarate and then for Peschiera del Garda, in the rear of the Trentino front. In July 1915, the volunteers were intended for the sector of the front of the city of Ala area and the Gardesana. On 24 October 1915, he participated in the battle of Dosso Casina. The 1 December 1915 the battalion was dissolved for war needs, and volunteers that made it up were laid off temporarily, then each was called up along with the class. In May 1916, he was drafted into the Italian Army to fight in WWI,[2] and was assigned to an artillery regiment at Sorte of Chievo, near Verona. On 16 August 1916, he was thrown from his horse during a cavalry training exercise and was trampled ( The site of te grave; ).[10][11] He died the following day, age thirty-three.


Three Women, 1909-10
The Morning, 1909

Early portraits and landscapes

From 1902 to 1910, Boccioni focused initially on drawings, then sketched and painted portraits - with his mother as a frequent model. He also painted landscapes - often including the arrival of industrialization, trains and factories for example. During this period, he weaves between Pointillism and Impressionism, and the influence of Giacomo Balla, and Divisionism techniques are evident in early paintings (although later largely abandoned). The Morning (1909) was noted for "the bold and youthful violence of hues" and as "a daring exercise in luminosity."[3] His 1909-10 Three Women, which portrays his mother and sister, and longtime lover Ines at center, was cited as expressing great emotion - strength, melancholy and love.[3]

Development of Futurism

Initially titled Il lavoro (Labor), Boccioni worked for nearly a year on La città sale or The City Rises, 1910, a huge (2m by 3m) painting, which is considered his turning point into Futurism. "I attempted a great synthesis of labor, light and movement" he wrote to a friend.[3] Upon its exhibition in Milan in May 1911, the painting attracted numerous reviews, mostly admiring. By 1912 it had become a headline painting for the exhibition traveling Europe, the introduction to Futurism. It was sold to the great pianist, Ferruccio Busoni for 4,000 lire that year,[3] and today is frequently on prominent display at the Museum of Modern art in New York, at the entrance to the paintings department.[1]

The Laugh, 1911

La risata (1911, The Laugh) is considered his first truly Futurist work. He had fully parted with Divisionism, and now focused on the sensations derived from his observation of modern life. Its public reception was quite negative, compared unfavorably with Three Women, and it was defaced by a visitor, running his fingers through the still fresh paint.[3] Subsequent criticism became more positive, with some considering the painting a response to Cubism. It was purchased by Albert Borchardt, a German collector who acquired 20 Futurist works exhibited in Berlin, including The Street Enters the House (1911) which depicts a woman on a balcony overlooking a busy street. Today the former also is owned by the Museum of Modern Art,[1] and the latter by the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.[3]

States of Mind II: The Farewells, 1911

Umberto Boccioni spent much of 1911 working on a trilogy of paintings titled "Stati d'animo" ("States of Mind"), which he said expressed departure and arrival at a railroad station - The Farewells, Those Who Go, and Those Who Stay.[3] All three paintings were originally purchased by Marinetti, until Nelson Rockefeller acquired them from his widow and later donated them to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.[1][12]

Elasticity, 1912
Portrait of Ferruccio Busoni, 1916

Beginning in 1912, with Elasticità or Elasticity, depicting the pure energy of a horse, captured with intense chromaticism, he completed a series of Dynamist paintings: Dinamismo di un corpo umano (Human Body), ciclista (Cyclist), Foot-baller, and by 1914 Dinamismo plastico: cavallo + caseggiato (Plastic Dynamism: Horse + Houses).

While continuing this focus, he revived his previous interest in portraiture. Beginning with L'antigrazioso (The antigraceful) in 1912 and continuing with I selciatori (The Street Pavers) and Il bevitore (The Drinker) both in 1914.

In 1914 Boccioni published his book, Pittura, scultura futuriste (Futurist Painting and Sculpture), which caused a rift between himself and some of his Futurist comrades. As a result, perhaps, he abandoned his exploration of Dynamism, and instead sought further decomposition of a subject by means of colour.[3] With Horizontal Volumes in 1915 and the Portrait of Ferruccio Busoni in 1916, he completed a full return to figurative painting. Perhaps fittingly, this last painting was a portrait of the maestro who purchased his first Futurist work, The City Rises.


Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913
Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Action, plaster, photograph published in 1914 and 1919, in Cubists and Post-Impressionism, by Arthur Jerome Eddy, and exhibited at Erster deutscher Herbstsalon, Berlin 1913, Herwarth Walden, titled Spiralförmige ausdehnung von muskeln in bewegung. Published 1913 catalogue by Der Sturm in Berlin

The writing of his Manifesto tecnico della scultura futurista (Technical manifesto of Futurist sculpture), published on 11 April 1912, was Boccioni's intellectual and physical launch into sculpture; he had begun working on sculpture in the previous year.[4] Much of his experimental work from late 1912 to 1913 was destroyed, including pieces relating to contemporaneous paintings, which are known only through photographs.

Yet by the end of 1913 he had completed what is considered his masterpiece, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space), in wax. His goal for the work was to depict a "synthetic continuity" of motion, instead of an "analytical discontinuity" that he saw in such artists as František Kupka and Marcel Duchamp.[13] During his life, the work only existed as a plaster cast. It was first cast in bronze in 1931.[14] This sculpture has been the subject of extensive commentary, and in 1998 it was selected as the image to be engraved on the back of the Italian 20-cent euro coin.



Retrospective catalogue: Umberto Boccioni, by Ester Coen, 272pp, 1988[3][22]


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Museum of Modern Art - Umberto Boccioni in the Collection".
  2. 1 2 3 Michael Brenson (16 September 1988). Met Retrospective Explores Boccioni And Futurism. The New York Times. Accessed October 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Ester Coen (1989). Umberto Boccioni. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. xiii–xvi. ISBN 0870995227.
  4. 1 2 3 Maurizio Calvesi (1969). Boccioni, Umberto (in Italian). Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Rome: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana. Accessed October 2015.
  5. Mark Stevens (1 March 2004). Futurist Tense. New York Magazine. Accessed October 2015.
  6. Grace Glueck (13 February 2004). Blurring the Line Between the Present and the Future. The New York TImes. Accessed October 2015.
  7. Michael Kimmelman (3 November 1989). Out of the Past, the Spirit of Italian Futurism. The New York TImes. Accessed October 2015.
  8. Grace Glueck (3 July 1998). On a Trip Back to Futurism, Women and Settings Merge. The New York TImes. Accessed October 2015.
  9. 1 2 Michael Glover (27 January 2009). The drawing and sculpture of Umberto Boccioni. The Independent. Accessed October 2015.
  10. 1 2 Laura Cumming (18 January 2009). Impossible dreams of a speed freak. The Guardian. Accessed October 2015.
  11. Umberto Boccioni. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Accessed October 2015.
  12. "Copy of Tate Gallery Immunity from Seizure filing, 2009" (PDF).
  13. Henderson, Linda (1981). "Italian Futurism and "The Fourth Dimension"". Art Journal. Art Journal, Vol. 41, No. 4. 41 (4): 317–323. doi:10.2307/776440. JSTOR 776440.
  14. "Met Museum, Description of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, by Umberto Boccioni".
  15. "Manifesto dei pittori futuristi, by Umberto Boccioni, 2pp, Milano : Direzione del movimento futurista, 1910".
  16. "Lacerba (Journal), Firenze : Tipografia di A. Vallecchi e C., 1913-1915".
  17. "Esposizione di scultura futurista del pittore e scultore futurista, by Umberto Boccioni, 30pp, Roma : Galleria futurista, 1913".
  18. "Manifesto tecnico della scultura futurista, by Umberto Boccioni, 4pp, Venezia : Edizioni del Cavallino, 1914".
  19. "WorldCat Reference for Pittura, scultura futuriste (dinamismo plastico), by Umberto Boccioni, 472pp, Milano : edizioni futuriste di 'Poesia', 1914".
  20. "Guggenheim Museum Boccioni Exhibition Overview".
  21. Jim Long (1 March 2004), Boccioni’s Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece and the Avant-garde in Milan and Paris: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The Brooklyn Rail. Accessed October 2015.
  22. "Metropolitan Museum of Art, MetPublications Page for Umberto Boccioni".

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