Umberto Boccioni, born in 1882 in Reggio Calabria to a family from Romagna, immediately showed a marked inclination towards the arts and literature. Following his family in a succession of transfers, he graduated from the Technical Institute in Catania in 1899.
His training in Rome: between Divisionism and Symbolism
From 1900 to 1906 he settled in Rome, enrolling in the Free School of the Nude and attending the studio of the artist and graphic designer Giovanni Maria Mataloni. The academic environment was a bit of a squeeze for him, so he began to attend Giacomo Balla’s studio in Porta Pinciana, together with Gino Severini.
Balla introduced him to the Divisionist technique, which he practised right from the start with a clear focus on variations in atmosphere and light: the artist frequently went to the Roman countryside with Severini to draw motifs from life, which were then presented at the Amateurs’ and Connoisseurs’ Exhibitions in Rome. At the same time he was interested in the Symbolist evocations of Sartorio, De Carolis and Cambellotti and studied Nietzsche.
Travels in Europe
In 1906 and 1907 he made several trips to Europe: first to Paris, where he came into contact with the art of Cézanne; then to Russia and then to Venice, where he stayed for the time necessary to arrive at a clear stylistic position, matured after careful observation of European artistic developments. Imbued with all the stimuli gathered during his recent travels, he was determined to become the interpreter of a new and dynamic art, based on Divisionism and Cubism, but inspired exclusively by modernity. In Milan, where he moved, he held Previati’s work in high regard, but his meeting with Tommaso Marinetti in 1909 was fundamental.
The writer had just finished and published in “Le Figaro” The Futurist Manifesto, which responded perfectly to Boccioni’s need for renewal. In 1910, he signed the The futurist painters Manifesto followed by the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting. He immediately took part in the most important Italian and European Futurist exhibitions, putting into practice a peculiar idea of temporality, which invests space and bodies, uniting them in a single whirlwind.
Time as duration, Bergson’s time, is at the basis of The ascending city, a painting begun between 1910 and ’11. With Divisionist technique and a very bright, almost fiery palette, it unites men and horses in a movement that stages the sensation of simultaneity and modernity of “industrial time”.
From the tumultuous Ascending City, Boccioni moved on to the pure representation of a sensation with The States of Mind Triptych. Created in two versions, the first at the Museo del Novecento in Milan, the second at MoMA in New York, it represents, in Boccioni’s own words, “the motion and light that destroy the materiality of bodies”.
Boccioni’s sculpture Forms Unique in the Continuity of Space, also in the Museo del Novecento in Milan, dates back to 1913, while the following year saw the publication of Pittura scultura futuriste (dinamismo plastico). Boccioni’s essay is a fundamental Futurist reference point for the concept of simultaneity, space, dynamism and temporality combined with line.
Atmosphere and bodies always converse, in a line that unites them seamlessly, in both painting and sculpture. In 1915, he enlisted as a volunteer and died near Verona only a year later.