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Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni

1882-1916

"If Futurism embraced the present, it also rejected the past. Whereas De Chirico looked back nostalgically to the remote Mediterranean tradition of art and humanism that had transformed nineteenth-century Italy into a moribund museum, the Futurists iconoclastically attacked this same tradition with verbal and pictorial proclamations. By affirming so emphatically, in the words of their literary leader, Marinetti, that "a roaring motor car, hurtling like a machine gun, is more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace," the Futurists hoped to wrench Italy from her languid, retrospective dream of an antique and Renaissance past into the shrill, dynamic realities of the industrial present. To accomplish this aim, they needed to develop a style as aggressive and conternporary as their new urban environment. For this, Cubism was essential.

"If, by 1910, Futurism had already written and shouted its dogma in words, its pictures still lacked an appropriately modern language to articulate their new subjects. The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni is a case in point. Against the Milanese urban background of smoking chimneys, scaffolding, a streetcar, and a locomotive, enormous draft horses tug at their harnesses, while street workers attempt to direct the animals' explosive strength. Yet the pictorial means of realizing this veneration of titanic energies and industrial activity are, in 1910, as anachronistic as the prominent role given to horse power. Basically, Boccioni still works here within a modified Impressionist technique whose atomizing effect on mass permits the forceful, churning symbols of horse and manpower to slip out of their skins in an Impressionist blur of moving light.

 

"By the end of 1911, however, Boccioni, like his fellow Futurists, had visited Paris in order to become acquainted with the avant-garde center of Europe and to prepare for the Futurist exhibition to be held in Paris in 1912. The impact of Cubism on the Futurists was immediate, as may be suggested by Boccioni's scene of railroad-station farewells, the first in his 1911 series, States of Mind. A twentieth-century reinterpretation of Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed or Monet's Gare St.-Lazare series, it plunges the spectator into a raucous, near-hysterical turmoil of machines and people. Yet now, Cubist planes dominate Impressionist dots and yield a metallic harshness far more relevant to the machine world admired by the Futurists. If Monet and Turner interpret the railroad theme as a dazzling luminary spectacle, Boccioni, with his newly acquired Cubist vocabulary, sees it as a collisive confusion in which mass emotions are harshly contrasted with the impersonal automatism of the machine. In the center, the glistening metal engine, with bumpers and headlights, presides over the human scene in which embracing figures flow irregularly around the mechanical sentinel in pulsating waves of emotion reminiscent of the Symbolists use of line around 1890. By employing the Cubist interlocking of angular, fragmented planes, Boccioni creates, not the homogeneous glitter of Impressionism, but a dissonant joining and separation of forms almost audible in their clangorous reverberations. The silent, cerebral dissection of form in Analytic Cubism is converted here into the noisy, assaulting ambiance of acoustic, optical, and kinetic sensations of a modern railroad terminus. Even the engine number, 6943, has a dramatic quality that portends the emotional cleavage of imminent departure rather than suggesting the intellectual quality of metaphysical wit that such numbers have in the works of Picasso and Braque."

- Text from Robert Rosenblum, "Cubism and 20th century Art"