Showing posts with label Futurism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Futurism. Show all posts

7 April 2023

Gino Severini - painter and mosaicist

Tuscan was leading figure in Futurist movement

Gino Severini, typically sporting a monacle, was an influential figure
Gino Severini, typically sporting a monacle, was
an influential figure in 20th century Italian art 
The painter and mosaicist Gino Severini, who was an important figure in the Italian Futurist movement in the early 20th century and is regarded as  one of the most progressive of all 20th century Italian artists, was born on this day in 1883 in the hilltop town of Cortona in Tuscany.

He divided his time largely between Rome and Paris, where he died in 1966. Although he was a signatory - along with Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo and Giacomo Balla - of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurist Painters in 1910, his work was not altogether typical of the movement.  

Indeed, ultimately he rejected Futurism, moving on to Cubism, having become friends with Cubist painters Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in Paris, before ultimately turning his interest to Neo-Classicism and the Return to Order movement that followed the First World War. 

He attracted criticism among his peers by his associations with the Fascist-supporting Novecento Italiano movement, whose work became closely linked with state propaganda. Severini was involved with Benito Mussolini's "Third Rome" project, supplying murals and mosaics for Fascist architectural structures inspired by imperial Rome. 

Working in mosaics became an increasing focus for Severini in his later years, particularly after he rediscovered his Catholic faith. His religious mosaics displayed such refined technique he was dubbed the “father of modern mosaics". 

Severini was also the author of many essays and several books on painting, including Du cubism au classicisme (From Cubism to Classicism) in 1921 and The Life of a Painter, a vivid account of his early career. 

Severini's Le Boulevard (1913), his Futurist  interpretation of Parisian street life
Severini's Le Boulevard (1913), his Futurist 
interpretation of Parisian street life
Born into a family of modest means in Cortona, where his father a junior court official and his mother a dressmaker, Severini studied at the Scuola Tecnica in Cortona until the age of 15, at which point his formal education ceased when he and other classmates were caught trying to steal exam papers. They were expelled and probably lucky to escape prison. 

In 1899, his mother took him to Rome, thinking his prospects would be better there. He gained employment as a shipping clerk. He painted in his spare time and, thanks to the patronage of a fellow Cortonese with whom he had become friends, was able to attend art classes at the Rome Fine Arts Institute, studying nudes. He was not a disciplined student, however, and found himself cut adrift when his frustrated patron cancelled his allowance. 

Left to fend for himself when his mother returned to Cortona, Severini was so poor he lived in a room that was essentially a store cupboard in a kitchen in Via Sardegna in Ostiense. In 1900 he met Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla for the first time. Balla took him on as a student, introducing him to the technique of pointillism, a painting method where effects were created by dotting the canvas or other surface with contrasting colours according to the principles of optical science.  The technique would have a major influence on Severini's early work and on Futurist painting in general.

Severini (right) with Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carrà, Filippo
Tommaso Marinetti and Umberto Boccioni in Paris in 1912
He moved to Paris in 1906 with Balla’s encouragement. Declaring the French capital to be his spiritual home, he settled in Montmartre, befriending another Italian, Amedeo Modigliani, and getting to know most of the city’s upcoming artists, including the Cubists Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris and Picasso.

It was through Severini that some of the leading Italian Futurists visited Paris in 1911, absorbing some of Severini’s influence by adopting some of the humanist features of Cubism, namely the human figure in motion, as further means of expressing pictorial dynamism.  

Severini’s own Futurist work had been based on human figures, nightclub dancers or simply people in the street, rather than the cars or machines that had been central to the attempts of many of his fellow Futurist artists to depict speed and dynamism in painting.  In his nightclub scenes, he would evoke the sensations of movement and sound through rhythmic forms and flickering colours. His Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin (1912) and The Boulevard (1913) were examples of his best work in Paris. 

However, Severini did produce some of the finest Futurist war art, notably his Red Cross Train Passing a Village (1914), Italian Lancers at a Gallop (1915) and Armoured Train (1915). 

His work over the next few years could be categorised as an idiosyncratic form of Cubism with elements of pointillism and Futurism before he began to experiment with a Neoclassical figurative style in portraits such as Maternity (1916). 

Severini's Mosaic of San Marco in his hometown of Cortona
Severini's Mosaic of San Marco
in his hometown of Cortona
Severini had married in 1913, his bride Jeanne Paul Fort, the 16-year-old daughter of the French poet Paul Fort. The couple were desperately poor and when Severini succumbed to pleurisy soon after the wedding, they moved to live with his parents, by then living in Montepulciano, where Jeanne became pregnant. They moved back to Paris, where their daughter, Gina, was born. A second child, Tonio, died from pneumonia, which was a factor in reigniting Severini’s Catholicism, which he had earlier renounced.

Only between the wars did Severini begin to find financial stability, realised mainly through his commissions to create frescoes and mosaics. 

He produced mosaics for the Palazzo di Giustizia in Milan (1936), the Palazzo delle Poste in Alessandria (1936) and mosaics and frescoes at the University of Padua (1937).  He worked for the Mussolini regime at the Foro Italico, a multi-venue sports complex, and the Palazzo degli Uffici, the inaugural building of the EUR project. Severini’s association with the Fascists was roundly condemned within the international artistic community, although none of Severini’s work was overtly pro-Fascist. 

After the fall of Mussolini and the end of the Second World War, Severini received lucrative commissions to decorate the offices of the Italian airline companies KLM and Alitalia among other organisations. 

His Cubist-inspired Mosaic of San Marco (1961), which adorns the facade of the Church of San Marco in Cortona, is seen as a signature work. He died in Paris in 1966 at the age of 82 but was buried in Cortona.

Cortona's elevated position gives it commanding views over the surrounding countryside
Cortona's elevated position gives it commanding
views over the surrounding countryside
Travel tip:

Cortona, founded by the Etruscans, is one of the oldest cities in Tuscany. Its Etruscan Academy Museum displays a vast collection of bronze, ceramic and funerary items reflecting the town’s past. The museum also includes an archaeological park that includes city fortifications and stretches of Roman roads. Outside the museum, the houses in Via Janelli are some of the oldest houses still surviving in Italy. Powerful during the mediaeval period, Cortona was defeated by Naples in 1409 and then sold to Florence.  Characterised by its steep narrow streets, Cortona’s hilltop location - it has an elevation of 600 metres (2,000 ft) - offers sweeping views of the Valdichiana, including Lago Trasimeno, where Hannibal ambushed the Roman army in 217 BC during the Second Punic War.

The Piramide Cestia and Porta San Paolo are two highlights of the Ostiense neighbourhood
The Piramide Cestia and Porta San Paolo are
two highlights of the Ostiense neighbourhood
Travel tip:

Severini’s earliest home in Rome was in the Ostiense neighbourhood, which can be found to the south of the Trastevere district. Bordered by the working class areas of Garbatella and Testaccio, Ostiense itself has shed its own down-at-heel reputation to become an increasingly trendy part of the city, populated by young professionals and boasting a thriving nightlife. The home of the majestic Basilica San Paolo Fuori le Mura - the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls - with its gold-plated ceilings, of the Roman  Piramide Cestia and the 3rd century Porta San Paolo, the district was built around the Via Ostiense, the ancient road linking the city with the Roman harbour at Ostia. 

Also on this day:

1763: The birth of musician Domenico Dragonetti

1794: The birth of opera singer Giovanni Battista Rubini

1906: Vesuvius erupts, killing more than 200 people

1973: The birth of footballer Marco Delvecchio


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