Giacomo Balla
Biography of Italian Futurist Painter: Divisionism, Pointillism.
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Dynamism of A Dog on a Leash
(1912) Albright-Knox Art Gallery,
New York.
For more Futurist-style works, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.

Giacomo Balla (1871-1958)

Contents

Biography
Early Life and Training
Artist in Rome
Futurism
Sculpture, Futurist Manifesto
Applied Art
Aeropittura Movement
Famous Paintings


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Biography

A leading member of the Futurism movement and one of Italy's most influential 20th century painters, Giacomo Balla is noted for the sense of movement he imparted to his painting, through his use of Divisionism, a method of applying colour made famous by Seurat's Pointillism. He shared his Parisian techniques with his Italian colleagues, Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) and Gino Severini (1883-1966), who in 1910 persuaded him to join the Futurist group. However, unlike other members, Balla's modern art inclined towards the whimsical and witty, rather than technological machines or warfare. Of all his modern paintings, he is best known for his iconic Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), whose image became an important influence on later animation art and cartoon design. As well as exploring the depiction of motion, through increasingly abstract paintings - see, for instance, Abstract Speed - The Car Has Passed (1913, Tate Collection, London), and Velocity of Cars and Light (1913, Moderna Museet, Stockholm) - Balla was also interested in flight simulation, as in the Aeropittura movement, and in design - notably theatrical, interior and typography.

 

 

Early Life and Training

Giacomo Balla was born in Turin, in the Piedmont region of Italy, the son of an industrial chemist. After studying music as a child, he switched to art, starting with lithography which he learned while working in a print shop, before taking classes at the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti and the Liceo Artistico in Turin, as well as the University of Turin under Cesare Lombroso. He also exhibited his painting, initially in a group show held under the auspices of the Turin Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts.

Artist in Rome

In 1895, Balla moved to Rome, where - despite his relative lack of formal training - he earned a living for several years doing newspaper illustration and caricature, as well as portrait art. He also met and married Elisa Marcucci. In 1899 his painting was shown at the Venice Biennale and in the International Exhibition of Fine Arts at the galleries of the Societa degli Amatori e Cultori di Belle Arti in Rome, after which he exhibited in Dusseldorf, Berlin and Munich, in Germany, as well as at the Salon d'Automne in Paris and in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

In 1900 he visited Paris, where he spent seven months working with the illustrator Serafino Macchiati, and was particularly drawn to Neo-Impressionism and its use of Divisionism, notably in the work of Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and his disciple Paul Signac (1863-1935). When he returned to Rome he joined the Italian Divisionism movement and introduced a similar Pointillist style into his art, which facilitated his continuing exploration into the depiction of light, atmosphere and motion - see, for instance Street Light (1909-10, MOMA, New York). In addition, he also used a chronophotographic analysis of movement taken from the images of photographers like Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey, that explored the mechanics of motion.

In 1903 he began to teach Pointillism to the young modern artists Gino Severini and Umberto Boccioni, and in the same year saw his works exhibited at the Glaspalast in Munich. In 1904, he was represented in the Internationale Kunstausstellung in Dusseldorf.

 

 

Futurism

Attracted by the ideas of Filippo Marinetti (1876-1944) - the founder and chief theorist of Futurism - with which he agreed strongly, Balla signed the Futurist Manifesto in 1910, along with Boccioni, Severini, Carlo Carra (1881-1966) and Luigi Russolo (1885-1947), although he did not participate in a Futurist exhibition until 1913. Instead, he continued to pursue his pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed, as exemplified by his famous masterpiece Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), travelling to London and to Dusseldorf in the process, where he began producing abstract art, as his analysis of movement and dynamism led to a complete decomposition of forms - see, for instance, works like The Car has Passed (1913, Tate, London) and Swifts: Paths of Movement + Dynamic Sequences (1913, Museum of Modern Art, New York). (Note: For more about this kind of geometric abstraction, see Concrete Art, also known as Non-Objective Art.) In 1913 he exhibited at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin, founded by Herwarth Walden (1879-1941), and at the Rotterdamsche Kunstkring in Rotterdam.

Sculpture, Futurist Manifesto

In 1914, he began experimenting with sculpture, and in 1915 created Boccioni's Fist (1915, Hirschhorn Museum, Washington DC), his most famous work of plastic art, and exhibited several pieces in the Prima esposizione libera futurista at the Galleria Sprovieri in Rome. In the same year, in collaboration with Fortunato Depero (1892-1960), Balla produced the Futurist manifesto entitled Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, and enjoyed his first one-man shows at the Societa Italiana Lampade Elettriche "Z" and at the Sala d'Arte Angelelli in Rome. His oil painting was also shown in 1915 at the large Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. During the war, his Rome studio became something of a focal point for young artists, but by 1918 Futurism as a movement was in decline, although his own artistic experiments continued to have a major influence on the international art world until the late 1930s.

Applied Art

Balla was also active in the area of applied art, in which he designed and painted Futurist furniture, and created Futurist clothing. In addition, he designed sets for the theatre, as well as carpets, vases and lamps. In the area of sculpture, he experimented with various materials, including aluminium foil, mirrors, coloured glass, cardboard, and various types of fabric. His three-dimensional avant-garde art made him one of the co-founders of abstract sculpture.

Aeropittura Movement

In 1929, along with Filippo Marinetti, painter Gerardo Dottori (1884-1977) and sculptor Bruno Munari (1907-98) Balla founded the Aeropittura movement - an offshoot of Futurism in which artists attempted to portray the sensation of flight - but soon afterwards switched to a more traditional style of represenational art, and the veristic depiction of themes from his youth. In 1935, he was elected a member of the Academy of Art in Rome (Accademia di San Luca). In 1955, his work was represented in the Documenta 1 1955 in Kassel, Germany, and posthumously during the Documenta 8 in 1987. He died in Rome in 1958, at the age of 86.

Famous Paintings

Works by Giacomo Balla can be seen in some of the best art museums around the world. Here is a short selection of his most famous paintings.

- Street Light (1909-10) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Girl Running on a Balcony (1912) Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan.
- Dynamism of A Dog on a Leash (1912) Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York.
- Speeding Automobile (1912) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Abstract Speed - The Car Has Passed (1913) Tate Collection, London.
- Velocity of Cars and Light (1913) Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
- Speeding Car + Light + Noise (1913) Kunsthaus, Zurich.
- Swifts: Paths of Movement + Dynamic Sequences (1913) MOMA, New York.
- Mercury Passing in Front of the Sun (1914) Private Collection.
- Autoballarioso (1946) Civic Gallery of Modern Art, Turin.

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