- Gino Severini
- TRAIN ARRIVANT À PARIS
- dedicated à Monsieur H. van Assendelft en souvenir de son ami devoué, Gino Severini, Paris, juillet 1916
- charcoal and chalk on paper
Private Collection, Amsterdam (acquired from the above circa 1970)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Florence, Palazzo Pitti, Gino Severini, 1983, p. 151, no. VII, illustrated (titled as Train de blessés en arrivant a Paris)
London, Estorick Collection of Modern Art (& travelling to Oxford and Sheffield), Gino Severini: From Futurism to Classicism, 1999-2000, no. 22, illustrated
Daniela Fonti, Gino Severini, Catalogo ragionato, Milan, 1988, p. 197, no. 235A, illustrated
'For a moment I hesitated between the words dynamism and futurism. My Italian blood raced faster when my lips coined out loud the word futurism. It was the new formula of Action-Art and a code of mental health. It was a youthful and innovative banner, anti-traditional, optimistic, heroic and dynamic, that had to be hoisted over the ruins of all attachment to the past.'
Severini did not present his war paintings publically until his Plastic Art of War Paris exhibition of 1916, in which the present work featured. Matthew Gale has remarked upon the 'dynamic integration of time and space' that characterised the works from this important show, as well as the recurring motifs of 'destruction, movement, detonation, reportage' (M. Gale in Futurism (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2009, p. 298). This Bergsonian integration of space and time was of central importance to Futurism: an idea being simultaneously explored by the Cubists, but to more dizzying effect by the Futurists. Rejecting the single viewpoint perspective that had dominated Western art since the Renaissance, Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris had started to show how objects looked from multiple viewpoints simultaneously, resulting in their celebrated fragmented aesthetic. Whereas the Cubists mostly limited themselves to the still life genre, the Futurists burst out onto the streets, the railways, and the battlefield.
The works in this important 1916 exhibition reflected the Marinettian fervour for social change, of which war, "Futurism intensified", would be the first stage' (ibid., p. 298). Though Severini's poor health prevented him from participating in this task, he was certainly impressed by the spectacle of France gearing up for war, and Marinetti encouraged him to express his commitment through his art: "try to live the war pictorially, studying it in all its mechanical forms (military trains, fortifications, wounded men, ambulances, hospitals, parades, etc)" (Marinetti, cited in Tisdall & Bozzolla, Futurism, London, 1977, p. 190). This instruction was pronounced by Marinetti in November 1914, shortly before the present work was executed. Indeed the present work is the product of what is arguably Severini's most exciting and innovative period. It is one of very few works of this subject and date to remain in private hands: the very closely related oil Train de banlieue arrivant à Paris is in the Tate Gallery's permanent collection, and Train de la Croix Rouge traversant au village was in Solomon R. Guggenheim's founding collection, in whose museum it remains today.
If Futurism is a celebration of speed, war and technology, then the train is its perfect paradigm. That Severini's work from this period is dominated by images of trains is hardly surprising, given that he spent the summer of 1915 near a strategic railway station outside Paris. The present work shows a train hurtling at top speed to into the French capital: its rocketing power is not confined to the tracks, and the suburban landscape through which the train passes is catapulted into action, and imbued with the vehicle's precarious dynamism. Nothing here is stable: everything from the Kneipp cafe, to the trees, to the rooftops, to the chimneys is pulled into the path of the train. Forms are flattened and piled on top of each other to create a looming atmosphere where the background is given just as much importance as the foreground. The closest thing to a linear narrative is the thrust from left to right, but otherwise it is an image with no particular compositional focus. It is a celebration of the feeling of being overwhelmed by stimuli, nodding to the 'aleph', that place of Jorge Luis Borges, from which the entire world is visible simultaneously. The support of this work might be two-dimensional, but it is the start of immersive art. It is vertiginous. It is precarious. It is exciting. It is an exceptional example of all the elements that have quite rightly, after one hundred years since the manifesto was published in 1909, prompted the recent reappraisal and re-appreciation of Futurist art.