Giacomo Balla

Giacomo Balla

Giacomo Balla was an Italian artist, one of the prominent painters of Futurism.

Early years

Giacomo Balla was born on July 18, 1871 in Torino in a family of an industrial chemist. Since the early on the boy decided to connect his life with art – he was playing the violin. From his father he inherited interest to photography, which influenced largely on his future artistic personality. Unfortunately, his father’s death forced him to abandon music and became an apprentice in a lithograph print shop.

Balla began his professional artistic education at Academia Albertina di Belle Arti and the Liceo Artistico and attended at the same time the University of Turin. At the age of 24 he moved to Rome, where worked as an illustrator, caricaturist for newspapers and created some commissioned portraits.

Giacomo’s early works were done in the realistic manner: hе often painted and made sketches en plein aire. One of his first publicly displayed painting was “Luci di marzo” (1897) that demonstrate obvious impact of divisionistic technique Balla absorbed from Giovanni Segantini and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. One of the peculiar pieces of that period is the artist’s self-portrait “Autosmorfia”, noticeable for the easy-going an emotional image of Balla that reminds of Rembrandt’s studies of facial expression.
He regularly participated in the exhibitions of the Società degli Amatorie Culturi di Belle Arti.

Influence of divisionism

In 1900 the artist left for Paris, where he was an assistant of an illustrator Serafino Macchiati for seven months. There he completed “La fiera di Parigi – Luna Park” (1900) canvas that revealed the master’s interest in depicting illumination in painting, which he would further develop during all his life.

At Paris Giacomo Balla had an opportunity to acquaint with the newest movements of Post-impressionism and Pointillism that encouraged him to continue searches in the sphere of light and form.

After returning to Rome Balla opened his own studio and started teaching art. Such future outstanding vanguard artists as Gino Severini, Umberto Boccioni, Mario Sironi attended it. Giacomo fostered spreading of divisionistic technique among his students.

The main subjects of his pictures of 1900s were connected with social problems (“Bankruptcy”, 1902, “A Worker’s Day”, 1904).

Origin of Futurism

1910 was the landmark in Giacomo Balla’s oeuvre: that was the year, when he, together with Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini, Carlo Carra and Luigi Russolo signed the second “Futurist painting manifesto”, which declared the emergence of a new avant-garde movement in Italy.

Balla’s first futuristic piece was a sort of illustration to Tommaso Marinetti’s text, called provocatively “Let’s Murder the Moonlight!” (1909). The master titled his painting “The street light” (1910): he showed a street lamp with bright spectral rays coming from it, so the pale light of the moon is almost invisible.

It was Giacomo’s first experience of the simultaneity method, as he wanted to represent the consequence of phases of an object’s motion on canvas. The concept of simultaneity was inspired by the photographic and cinematographic art. The author was felt the painting had to update its visual tools and adapt it to capturing movement in order to be more up-to-date in the era of dynamism and technologies. The solution was prompted by chronophotography, popular in the end of the 19th cent. Balla used its principles of subsequent arrangement of set of the moving object’s images in such works as “Hands of the violinist” (1912), “Dynamism of a dog on a leash” (1912), “Girl running on a balcony” (1912).

Elaboration of futuristic principles in painting

In a short while, Giacomo Balla occurred separated from his associates, as he remained in Rome. Very soon he became bored with figurative simultaneity, so the painter started experimenting in the sphere of abstract art. Not in the last turn enthusiasm about it was caused by Balla’s immersing into theosophy and spiritism. The master attended meetings of the “Gruppo Teosofico Roma” and embodied his new impressions in non-narrative “Trasformazione forme spiriti” (1918).

The painter changed the main idea of the futuristic aesthetics. Futurists demanded to make the accent on dynamic principle, yet most of them achieved that effect through splitting objects. Balla, in contrast, referred to the movement of abstract trajectories. “Plasticity of Light + Speed” (1914), “Lines of Movement and Dynamic Succession” (1913), “Flight of the Swallows” (1913) can serve as samples of such innovative compositions. Giacomo draw elastic and springy lines, which crossings resemble the kinetics of multiply-fractures light rays.

“Iridescent Interpenetration No.7” (1913 – 1914) is another eloquent painting, which illustrates Giacomo’s researches of non-narrative visual language: using multicolored rombs that forms spirals with tints wittily converge and disperse, the master tried to demonstrate the viewer his vision of the ultimate harmony of the Universe.

In 1914 Balla completed a series of paintings called “Mercury passing before the sun”. At that time such celestial phenomenon indeed took place on November 7, 1914 and the artist observed it using telescope with smoked lenses. Colored planes, straight and curving lines were meant to transmit the sense of moving through space. Changing hues on each of the series’ canvases corresponded with the stages of a partial eclipse of the Sun.

Sculpture and design

In 1914 Giacomo Balla tried his hand in sculpture for the first time. This part of his heritage is less famous, comparing recognition of Balla-painter, yet not less interesting. In sculpture the master tried to find the appropriate ways of expressing the same issues he considered in painting – visualization of form and light in motion. He chooses vigorous sharp outlines for that, like in one of his major pieces “Boccioni’s Fist – Lines of Force II” (1915). To emphasize the spirit of a new epoch of speed, noise and technocracy, Balla often made his works of metal (“Sculptural Construction of Noise and Speed”, 1914 – 1915), yet, he also often used rather simple materials – like painted wood – for his three-dimensional futuristic compositions (“Futurist Flowers”, 1918 – 1925).

Since 1912 the artist was involved in architectural experiments, designed interiors, furniture and stage settings for the theater (he cooperated with Igor Stravinsky in his “Feu d’artifice”, 1917, and “Bal Tik-Tak”, 1921). While working over decorations for interiors, Giacomo encountered with late Art Nouveau, which influence could be seen in more smooth shapes in his abstract compositions that remind of volutes and roccaile-like elements. “Forms cry ‘Long Live Italy!’” (1915) is a peculiar merge of forceful futuristic language with curvilinear rhythms of Art Nouveau.

Giacomo Balla’s first solo exhibitions was held at the Società Italiana Lampade Elettriche “Z” in Rome in 1915.


After the World War I futurism occurred at the stage of its decay. New ideas were needed to revive it. And since the end of 1920s the painter joined the futuristic group that included such young masters of second generation of Futurism as Fortunato Depero, Enrico Prampolini, Gerardo Dottori, Benedetta Cappa, Fillia, Tato and Mino Somenzi. The group introduced the conception of “aeropittura” (from Italian “aeropainting”) in their manifesto “Perspectives of Flight” (1929). They propsed aeroplanes and aerial landscapes as the central subjects for art. The idea was originated under the new wave of militarization, as the Fascist regime was gaining power at that time.

1930s – 1950s

In 1933 Giacomo Balla finished “March on Rome”, which was made in typically neoclassicistic manner and was probably commissioned by Mussolini himself. Since the fascist government didn’t favor vanguard movements anymore, in 1937 the painter published a letter in the “Perseo” newspaper, where declared his distancing from Futurism. Since that time he returned to traditional figurative painting (“Four in the Mirror”, 1946).

Giacomo Balla died on March 1, 1958 in Rome, aged 87.