Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni was an Italian painter and sculptor, one of the major adherents of Futurism in Italian art of 1910s.

Early years

Umberto Boccioni was born on October 19, 1882 in Reggio Calabria – a city on the South of Italy. His father, Rafael Boccioni, was a civil servant, who had to move from town to town frequently – the boy spent his childhood in Forli, Genova, Padua, Sicily (often traveling only without his mother). In 1897 he graduated from the technical school, after that he worked for some local newspapers, writing reviews of exhibitions for them.

However, that period didn’t last – the young man passion for art was strong enough, so in 1898 he came to Rome. Initially Boccioni stayed there with his father and lived at his uncle’s home, and had to satisfy his struggle for learning only with lessons from a mediocre poster-painter.

Luckily, he soon met Gino Severini, with whom he began attending the studio of Giacomo Balla. Balla acquainted young painters with the newest for that time concepts of Divisionism, however, it’s important to notice that his images were still realistic, with a considerable influence of Impressionism. It comes as no surprise, that his students demonstrated the same tendencies of “Divisionism verism” (Boccioni’s “Paduan Landscape”, 1903).

In parallel, Umberto kept on working in the field of literature and wrote his first novel ‑ Pene dell’Anima (“Pain of the soul”, 1900) and a poem “Carcereide” (“From prison”, 1901). In 1903 the artist enrolled the Scuola Libera del Nudo of the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome.

Prefuturistic period

In 1906 Umberto Boccioni had a travel to Paris – the center of vanguard artistic movements. The master admired by Post-impressionism and Pointillism (especially Georges Seurat), which inspired him to refresh his palette. After France he set off for Russia, where spent several month. In December 1906 Boccioni returned to Padua, to his mother and sister, but in a short while moved to Venice, where attended the local Scuola libera del Nudo. In 1908 he finally settled in Milan.

Specialists define the period before 1908 in Boccioni’s oeuvre as prefuturistic. Despite the fact, that the artist even then episodically demonstrated inclinations to futuristic subjects of speed and motion (“Car and Hunting Fox”, 1904, “Passing train”, 1908), nevertheless, the impact of symbolism and divisionism were the most significant in his paintings of that time. It’s especially obvious in such landscapes, like “Cloister of S. Onofrio”, 1904, “Boats in Sunlight”, 1907). Some of Umberto’s graphical pieces, done in ink (like “Pianist and listener”, 1908, “Agitate Crowd Surrounding a High Equestrian Monument”, 1908) have almost expressionistic tension and emotionality.

Working in graphical arts

During his stay at Venice, Umberto Boccioni visited the Venice Biennale, which took place in April 1907. It was marked by the large presence of etching that prompted him to try his hand in printings (particularly, etching) had learned, as the master wrote in his diary, from one Signor Zezzof. He might be impressed by so-called “Dream Room”, one of which creators was Italian symbolist and Pointillist Gaetano Previati.

After encountering Gaetano’s pieces, Boccioni’s engravings became more linear, with rejection chiaroscuro, as one can see from his drypoints “The Artist’s Mother Crocheting” (1907) “Maria Sacchi Reading” (1907). In graphical art, the main authorities for the artist were Rembrandt and Beardsley, so he made the main accent on portraits. Female portraits were especially frequent (“Woman Leaning on a Chair (the Artist’s Sister)”, 1909), yet the theme of suburbs and their inhabitants was also an important one for Boccioni (“Coal Carriers”, 1907).

Elaborating principles of futurism

1910 was a decisive year Boccioni’s life, as he met one of the founders of Italian futurism Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The same year the representatives of a new movement published two manifestos – “Manifesto dei pittori futuristi (“Manifesto of the Futurist artist’) and “Manifesto tecnico del movimento futurista” (Technical manifesto of the futuristic painting); both of them were sign by Umberto Boccioni. Apart from him, such painters as Carlo Carrà, Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla and Luigi Russolo joined Futurism.

At that period Boccioni continued developing divisionistic technique, but after acquaintance with futurists, it gained new dynamism. Besides, his canvases if that time were characterized by special expressiveness and dramatism, seen in such important pieces, as “The rising city” (1910), “Mourning” (1910), “Riot in the galleria” (1910 – 1911). The artist managed to elaborate the principles of “unanimism” (from French “unanimisme”: “une” – one, and “anima” – “soul”) in his works. “Unanimism” was initially the trend in French literature of 1900s, dedicated to the questions of collective consciousness. And Umberto concentrated on the showing of collective emotions and mass behavior using artistic means.

Cubistic influence

In 1911 Italian futurists visited Paris, where they acquainted French cubists. The latter’s manner affected Boccioni. He started introducing into his compositions objects and figures, segmented into parts, like cubists did. The master tried to unite his own conception of continuous motion with disintegrated elements. In Umberto’s pieces those cubistic fragments were submitted to the helical movement of the “lines of force”. The base of the paintings was the real, material world, transformed into a boiling mass of heated colors and vigorously intertwining forms. The visual language of the pictures was approaching to abstraction.

Triptych “States of mind” (its parts from the left to right – “The Farewells”, “Those Who Go”, “Those Who Stay”) brightly illustrates the result of such cooperation of Futurism and Cubism. Anyway, in such expressive depiction of energetic fields was largely shaped by the philosophical conception of Henri Bergson who claimed duration in general and motion in time to be perceived as transference of vital and psychical energy, which had to overcome the resistance of spatial substance.

Features of painting

The artist widely used the futuristic principle of simultaneity, which he saw in “synthesis of what we remember and what we see”. So, Umberto Boccioni’s paintings and drawings are almost deprived of volumes in their traditional meaning, since they are split into elements. The psychophysical flow can’t be rationaly analyzed, so the author captured it in diffused or dense vortical forms (“Elasticita”, 1912, “Dynamism of a Human Body”, 1913, “Dynamism of a soccer player”, 1913, “Muscular Dynamism”, 1913).


Absorbing cubistic experience, Umberto Boccioni tried himself in sculpture as well, embodying the ideas of “splitting” and “untwisting” of form in material. In 1912 he published “Manifesto tecnico della scultura futurista” (“Technical Manifesto of futurist sculpture”), claiming “continuation of objects in space” to be the main aim of new plastics.

The master preferred contrast combining of various materials, yet bronze, that emphasized rough shapes of the sculptures was his favorite one. “Development of a bottle in space” (1912) is one of his major pieces, which, along with “Unique forms of continuity in space”, perfectly represent the spirit of “Sturm and Drang”, so typical for early avant-garde.

Umberto’s sculptural compositions are magnifying: they capture objects in motion, show closer and more distant once at one level. By ruining the integrity of things the author managed to make all their elements equally observable and meaningful.


One of Boccioni’s most famous works “Dynamism of a Speeding Horse + Houses” (1914 – 1915) is perceived as sort of foretelling one: after the start of World War I drafted into the Italian Army in 1916 and was thrown from his horse during a cavalry training exercise. Umberto Boccioni died from the trauma in the hospital of Verona on August 16, 1916.

Quotes of Umberto Boccioni

  • While the impressionists make a table to give one particular moment and subordinate the life of the table to its resemblance to this moment, we synthesize every moment (time, place, form, color-tone) and thus build the table.
  • A time will come when the picture will no longer be enough. Its immobility will become an archaism with the vertiginous movement of human life. The eye of man will perceive colours as feelings within itself. Multiplied colours will not need form to be understood and paintings will be swirling musical compositions of great coloured gases, which, on the scene of a free horizon, will move and electrify the complex soul of a crowd that we cannot yet conceive of…
  • Your eyes, accustomed to semi-darkness, will soon open to more radiant visions of light. The shadows which we shall paint shall be more luminous than the high-lights of our predecessors, and our pictures, next to those of the museums, will shine like blinding daylight, compared with deepest night. We conclude that painting cannot exist today without divisionism… …Divisionism, for the modern painter, must be an innate complementariness which we declare to be essential and necessary.