An Italian literary and artistic movement that began in 1909 led by the writer Filippo Tommasso Marinetti. It rejected the culture of the past and embraced new technology, emphasising speed and dynamism. It used the Cubist techniques of fragmentation and shifting viewpoints to represent these ideals in paint. Futurism also had a political aspect and was closely associated with Italian Fascism.

Stanley Cursiter The Regatta 1913 © Estate of Stanley Cursiter. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.

The Origins of Futurism

Futurism is one of the most important art movements to emerge from Italy in the early twentieth century. Initially literary in nature, Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published the first Futurist Manifesto on front page of the Paris newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909, asserting to Paris: ‘It is from Italy that we now establish Futurism with this manifesto of overwhelming and burning violence, because we want to free this country from its fetid gangrene of professors, archaeologists, antiquarians and rhetoricians.’

Marinetti’s aim was to challenge the dominance of Paris as site of avant-garde artistic activity. He also outlined the movement’s aims to reject history and embrace the speed, energy and dynamism of the new machine age. In 1909 Marinetti united with the painters Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini, Carlo Carra and Luigi Russolo to develop ideas for Futurism in the visual arts, publishing a second manifesto in 1910, titled Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto, declaring that they were ‘the primitives of a completely transformed sensibility.’ An opening exhibition was held in Milan in 1911 at the Mostra d’Arte Libera, featuring a range of diverse styles and approaches, united by an interest in speed, violence and technology. Initially centred in Milan, the style spread to Turin and Naples.

Key Ideas and Artworks

When Futurist art first emerged it reflected a range of styles, particularly with an affinity to the divisionist Post-Impressionism of Georges Seurat. Severini made contact with the Cubist painters in 1911 during a trip to Paris; Boccioni, Russolo and Carra later made visits themselves, returning brimming with new ideas. The concept of movement also proved highly influential, particularly the sequential photography of Edweard Muybridge and the ‘chrono-photographs’ of French physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey. In their painting manifesto they wrote, ‘On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects 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.’

A major exhibition of Futurist painting was held in Paris in 1912 which travelled widely, spreading their ideas across Europe, Russia and the United States. The exhibition revealed the Futurist technique of using ‘lines of force’ within paintings to suggest a greater sense of movement. Boccioni’s The City Rises, 1910, is often claimed to be the first true Futurist painting, capturing the heat and energy of the crowded city, with other important artworks including Severini’s Armored Train in Action, 1915 and Carra’s The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli, 1911.

Futurist Sculpture

Boccioni was also a pioneer in developing Futurist sculpture, most prominently with his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913. He wrote in his influential ‘Futurist Manifesto of Sculpture’ in 1912, ‘Let us discard the finite line and the closed form statue. Let us tear the body open.’ The Futurist style proved influential on other media too, spreading into architecture and film.

Legacy

The Futurists were one of the few artistic movements to celebrate the war and far right politics, and in 1916, two of the movement’s active members, Boccioni and Sant’Elia, were killed during the First World War, which marked the end of Futurism’s most fruitful phase. Nonetheless, after 1913 the Futurist style spread internationally, influencing subsequent movements including artists in the UK such as Stanley Cursiter and the Vorticists as well as Rayonism in Russia. In the United States, Joseph Stella cited Futurism as a primary influence on his work.

Artists

Stanley Cursiter
1887 - 1976

Glossary terms

  • A style of painting originated by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Instead of painting a figure or object from a fixed position they represented it from multiple viewpoints.

  • Russian avant-garde movement invented by the artists Mikhail Larionov and his partner Natalya Goncharova. Influenced by Cubism and Futurism, the style was characterised by dynamically intersecting lines or rays.

  • Used to cover a range of different painting styles that emerged following Impressionism in Europe. This includes artists such as Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.