Boccioni was an Italian painter, printmaker, writer, and a sculptor. As
one of the principal figures of
Futurism, Boccioni helped shape the
movement's revolutionary aesthetic as a theorist as well as through his
art. In spite of the brevity of his life, his concern with dynamism of
form and with the breakdown of solid mass in his sculpture continued to
influence other artists long after his death. Like other Futurists, his
work centered on the portrayal of movement, called dynamism, speed, and
technology. If Futurism embraced the present, it also rejected the past.
Umberto Boccioni was born in Reggio Calabria October 19, 1882 to parents who originated from the Romagna region of Italy. His family moved to Padua in 1888 and then on to Catania in 1897, where Umberto Boccioni obtained his school-leaving Diploma at a Technical Institute. It was in this Sicilian city that young Umberto began his collaboration with a number of local newspapers.
In 1901 he moved to Rome where he stayed with an aunt and began to frequent the studio of a poster designer. During this period Umberto Boccioni met Gino Severini, together with whom he became a pupil of Giacomo Balla, who revealed the theory of divisionism to him. Umberto Boccioni also studied at the Academy of the Brera in Milan and in April of 1906 he traveled first to Paris and then to Russia. While in Paris Umberto Boccioni studied Impressionist and Post-Impressionist styles in Paris. On returning to Italy Umberto Boccioni settled in Padua and enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice. Umberto Boccioni set off on another journey to Russia but only got as far as Munich in Germany.”
Umberto Boccioni became the main theorist of the Futurist artistic movement. He also decided to be a sculptor after he visited various studios in Paris. While in 1912 Umberto Boccioni exhibited some paintings together with other Italian futurists at the Bernheim-Jeun, in 1913 he returned to show his sculptures at the Gallerie La Boetie. All Boccioni's sculpture is related to the elaboration of what Umberto Boccioni had seen in Paris, ad his artwork probably influenced the cubist sculptors, especially Duchamp-Villon.
The impact of Cubism on the Futurists was immediate, as may be suggested by Boccioni's "Scene of Railroad-Station Farewells" (shown here), the first in his 1911 series, States of Mind. A twentieth-century reinterpretation of JMW Turner's "Rain, Steam and Speed" or Claude Monet's "Gare St.-Lazare" series, it plunges the spectator into a raucous, near-hysterical turmoil of machines and people. Yet now, Cubist planes dominate Impressionist dots and yield a metallic harshness far more relevant to the machine world admired by the Futurists.
If Monet and Turner interpret the railroad theme as a dazzling luminary spectacle, Umberto Boccioni, with his newly acquired Cubist vocabulary, sees it as a colliding confusion in which mass emotions are harshly contrasted with the impersonal automatism of the machine. In the center, the glistening metal engine, with bumpers and headlights, presides over the human scene in which embracing figures flow irregularly around the mechanical sentinel in pulsating waves of emotion reminiscent of the Symbolists use of line around 1890. By employing the Cubist interlocking of angular, fragmented planes, Gino Boccioni creates, not the homogeneous glitter of Impressionism, but a dissonant joining and separation of forms almost audible in their clangorous reverberations. Even the engine number, 6943, has a dramatic quality that portends the emotional cleavage of imminent departure rather than suggesting the intellectual quality of metaphysical wit that such numbers have in the works of Pablo Picasso.
Umberto Boccioni's first futurist sculpture dates from 1911. In 1912 Boccioni wrote his "Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture," in which he propounded the use of unconventional, hitherto unacceptable materials. The "totality" Boccioni strove for was the simultaneous representation of the temporal evolution of an action. His revolutionary dictum for sculpture, "Let us open the figure like a window and include in it the milieu in which it lives," is illustrated by Development of a Bottle in Space, and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (shown here).
In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, Boccioni puts speed and force into sculptural form. The figure strides forward. Surpassing the limits of the body, its lines ripple outward in curving and streamlined flags, as if molded by the wind of its passing. Boccioni had developed these shapes over two years in paintings, drawings, and sculptures, exacting studies of human musculature. The result is a three-dimensional portrait of a powerful body in action.
Umberto Boccioni took part in all the important futurist exhibitions in Europe and America, beginning with the Paris exhibition of 1912. His book Pittura, scultura futuriste: Dinamismo plastico , written in 1914 is the most comprehensive statement of futurism written by one of the original members of the movement. Umberto Boccioni was wounded in World War I. While convalescing, Umberto Boccioni was killed in a riding accident in Sorte in 1916.