Lot 1
  • 1

Giacomo Balla

180,000 - 250,000 GBP
338,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Giacomo Balla
  • Volo di Rondini
  • signed Futur Balla and dated AN. 1913 (lower right)
  • gouache on paper


Alfred H. Barr, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1948, as a gift for his wife Margaret)

Thence by descent to the present owner


New York, Museum of Modern Art, Twentieth Century Italian Art, 1949, no. 28, illustrated in the catalogue


Giovanni Lista, Balla, Modena, 1982, no. 351, illustrated p. 209 

Balla, The Futurist (exhibition catalogue), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Riverside Studios, London; Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1987, illustrated p. 118

Abstract Futurism (exhibition catalogue), Finarte, London, 1995, mentioned pp. 20-22, illustrated p. 21 (titled as Swallows)

Catalogue Note

Giacomo Balla was one of the principal artists of the Futurist movement. Shortly after Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his first Futurist Manifesto in 1909, four major figures allied themselves with him: Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, Umberto Boccioni, and Luigi Russolo. The following year Balla and Gino Severini signed Marinetti’s Manifesto dei pittori futuristi. The movement focused especially on the contemporary fascination with speed, dynamism, velocity, and force. It renounced in iconoclastic terms all traditional ideas about previous art that Marinetti declared moribund, static, and completely without relevance to the modern age.

John Musgrove has succinctly described Balla’s special contribution to Futurism: 'Balla’s early Futurist experiments [...] represented movement with a more analytical approach [than his colleagues], contemplating the spatial displacement of the object in time [...] The overpowering effect of physical sensations, particularly when exaggerated by modern machinery and inventions associated with speed such as the automobile was taken for the subject for paintings [...] It was his long-standing interest in photography that suggested to him [an] espisodic reading of the transformation of movement into a vision that was still persuasive in naturalistic terms. Paintings such as Swifts: Paths of Movement + Dynamic Sequences (1913; Museum of Modern Art, New York), with their calculated rendering of the stages of an action, suggest an awareness of the photographic studies of Eadweard Muybridge and the chronophotography of Etienne-Jules Maret' (John Musgrove, 'Futurism', in Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2007-2010, 1/1 – 10/10).

The present work, Volo di Rondini (Flight of the Swifts or Swallows), was executed in 1913. It is one of at least sixteen images of swallows done in 1913-1914, just on the eve of the First World War (see Giovanni Lista, Balla, Modena, 1982, nos. 350-360). This exceedingly beautiful work on paper is the perfect embodiment of a description from the catalogue entry for an exhibition held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris in 1912: 'All the objects, according to physical transcendentalism, tend towards the infinite through their force-lines, to bring the work of art back to true painting. We interpret nature by presenting these lines on the canvas as the origins or prolongations of the rhythms which the objects impress upon our sensibilities' (as cited by Musgrove, op. cit., 3/10).

The provenance of this outstanding work on paper is especially significant. It was first seen by Alfred Barr (the legendary founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art) and his wife, Margaret Scolari Barr (an accomplished art historian in her own right, who had actually already met Balla as a child with her Roman father) in Rome in the Autumn of 1932. Margaret Scolari Barr recorded the visit in a journal: 'A. [Alfred Barr] and M. [Margaret Scolari Barr] pay a long visit to Giacomo Balla; he remembers his friendship with M’s father and precisely where they used to sit on the causeway between the Pincio and the Villa Borghese' (Margaret Scolari Barr, 'Our Campaigns', The New Criterion, Special Issue, Summer 1987, p. 30). 

Evidently the visit to Balla in 1932 made a deep impression on Alfred Barr. In 1948 Barr returned to Rome and again visited Balla. In the intervening years he had formed a very clear vision of what the museum's collection should contain. He targeted a major Futurist painting that he most likely had seen in Balla’s studio during his 1932 visit. It depicted swallows in flight, the aforementioned Swifts: Paths of Movement + Dynamic Sequences of 1913 (Fig. 3). The acquisition was made in 1949, and was accessioned by the museum in the same year. It is now recognised as one of the most important paintings in the MoMA’s collection (John Elderfield, Visions of Modern Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2003, p. 120) and was a purchase that was instrumental in bringing Balla - and indeed Futurism as a whole - to an international audience.

It was during this same trip that Alfred Barr acquired this exquisite work on paper (the offered lot), directly from the artist as a present for his wife. The work has remained in the Barr family ever since and comes onto the open market for the first time in its history.

Alfred H. Barr was the legendary founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art and then Director of its Museum Collections. He was a leading figure in the art world as an author, art historian, curator, and director. His wife, Margaret Scolari Barr, was an accomplished art historian, too, and the author of the standard reference work on the work of Medardo Rosso. Although Margaret Barr never held an official position at the Museum of Modern, she was very much a collaborator with her husband.  The decisions that Barr made during the course of his tenure not only shaped the course of what is arguably the most important museum of Modern Art in the world but also profoundly influenced the classification and understanding of Modern Art in a broader context. Margaret Barr was always at his side and they formed close relationships with many of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, collecting for the museum, organising groundbreaking exhibitions, producing books and catalogues, and advising collectors.