18 July 2019

Giacomo Balla - painter

Work captured light, movement and speed

Giacomo Balla's work Le mani del violinista - The Hands of  the Violinist - stemmed from his fascination with movement
Giacomo Balla's work Le mani del violinista - The Hands of
 the Violinist - stemmed from his fascination with movement
The painter Giacomo Balla, who was a key proponent of Futurism and was much admired for his depictions of light, movement and speed in his most famous works, was born on this day in 1871 in Turin.

An art teacher who influenced a number of Italy’s most important 20th century painters, Balla became interested in the Futurist movement after becoming a follower of the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who is regarded as the ideological founder of Futurism.

Futurism was an avant-garde artistic, social and political movement. Its ethos was to embrace modernity and free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past.

Balla was one of the signatories of Il manifesto dei pittori futuristi - the Manifesto of Futurist Painters - in 1910.

Giacomo Balla was one of the signatories of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters
Giacomo Balla was one of the signatories
of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters 
He differed from some of the other artists who signed the Manifesto, painters such as Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni, whose work tried to capture the power and energy of modern industrial machinery and the passion and violence of social change, in that his focus was primarily on exploring the dynamics of light and movement.

Giacomo Balla was the son of a seamstress and a waiter who was an amateur photographer. He lost his father at the age of nine, at which point he gave up an early interest in music and began working in a lithograph print shop. As he grew up, he decided to study painting and several of his early works were shown at exhibitions.

In 1895, after completing his academic studies at the University of Turin, Balla moved to Rome, where he married Elisa Marcucci and found work as an illustrator, caricaturist and portrait painter.  He also passed on his painting skills as a teacher.

After a period in Paris in 1900, where he spent seven months assisting the illustrator Serafino Macchiati, he became fascinated with French neo-impressionism and, on returning to Rome, he adopted the neo-impressionist style in his work.  Among his young students were Boccioni and Gino Severini, to whom he passed on his enthusiasm for contemporary French trends.

Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash  identified him as a Futurist painter
Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash
identified him as a Futurist painter
Influenced by Marinetti’s philosophy, Balla, Boccioni and Severini adopted the Futurism style. Balla was driven by the idea of creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed.  Typical for his new style was his 1912 painting Dinamismo di un cane al guinzaglio - Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash - which is in the care of the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.

Another notable work painted at around the same time is Le mani del violinista - The Hands of the Violinist - which depicts a musician's hand and the neck of a violin, blurred and duplicated to suggest the motion of frenetic playing.  The Hands of the Violinist is currently kept at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Islington, north London.

If the theme of those two paintings was movement, Balla’s interest in breaking down the elements of light is exemplified in two other famous works.

Balla's extraordinary 1909 painting Street Light (Lampada ad arco)
Balla's extraordinary 1909 painting
Street Light (Lampada ad arco)
Street Light (Lampada ad arco), painted in 1909, which vividly depicts the glow of modern street lighting, can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, while his 1914 work Mercury Passing Before the Sun (Mercurio transita davanti al sole), an almost kaleidoscopic representation of the planet and the sun seen through a telescope, is on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

In 1914, Balla branched out into designing Futurist furniture and even the so-called Futurist antineutral clothing. He also received some commissions as a sculptor.  His studio became a meeting place for young artists.

In 1935, he was made a member of Rome's Accademia di San Luca.  He died in Rome in March 1958, at the age of 86, and was buried at the Campo Verano cemetery.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins the Cemetary of Campo Verano
The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins the
Cemetary of Campo Verano
Travel tip:

The Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano, where Balla is interred, is situated beside the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, in the Tiburtino area of Rome. It is the city's largest cemetery, with some five million internments. The name 'Verano' is thought to date back to the Roman era, when the area was known as Campo dei Verani.

The Via Po in Turin, pictured here in 1930 is at
the heart of the city's café culture
Travel tip:

The city of Turin, once the capital of Italy and traditionally seat of the Savoy dynasty, is best known for its royal palaces but tends to be overlooked by visitors to Italy, especially new ones, who flock first to Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. Yet as an elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. To enjoy Turin’s café culture, head for Via Po, Turin’s famous promenade linking Piazza Vittorio Veneto with Piazza Castello, or nearby Piazza San Carlo, one of the city’s main squares. In the 19th century, these cafès were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.

More reading:

Umberto Boccioni, the brilliant talent who died tragically young

How the funeral of an anarchist inspired Carlo Carrà

The 'noise music' of Futurist Luigi Russolo

Also on this day:

1610: The mysterious death of Caravaggio

1884: The birth of Alberto di Jorio, shrewd head of the Vatican Bank

1914: The birth of Gino Bartali, cycling champion and secret war hero


No comments:

Post a Comment