Lot 118
  • 118

Giacomo Balla

600,000 - 800,000 USD
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  • Giacomo Balla
  • Paravento con linea di velocit√† (Screen with speedlines)
  • Stamped BALLA FUTURISTA (lower left)
  • Oil on four canvases on two artist's stretchers and in the artist's painted frame
  • Overall: 59 1/2 by 49 5/8 in.
  • 151 by 126 cm


Princess Bassiano, Rome
Agenzia d’Arte Moderne, Rome
Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
Helen Serger (La Boétie), New York
Private Collection


Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Giacomo Balla, 1972, no. 33
Milan, Galleria Philippe Daverio, Selezione 3, 1979, no. 2
Turin, Mole Antonelliana, Ricostruzione futurista dell'Universo, 1980, n.n. 
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Folding Image, 1984, illustrated in the catalogue 
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, 1984-85
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Futurismo & Futuristi, 1986, no. 522, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Italian Futurism: Reconstructing the Universe, 2014, illustrated in the catalogue 


Enrico Crispolti, Il mito della macchina e altri temi del futurismo, Trapani, 1971, no. 44 
Maurizo Fagiolo dell’Arco, Balla The Futurist, Milan, 1987, illustrated p. 144
Maurizo Fagiolo dell’Arco, Futur-Balla, Rome, 1982, illustrated in color pp. 40-41
Giovanni Lista, Balla, Catalogo generale dell’opera, vol. I, Modena, 1982, no. 522-522A, illustrated in color p. 265


This work is in overall very good condition, consistent with its use as a functional object. The screen is made up of four canvases. The canvases are unlined and the painted wooden strips that surround the work are presumably original. There is an undulation in the lower portion of the larger panel on both the front and the back. The canvas of the larger panel on the front is joined at lower right in the curvilinear lower left portion. There appears to be a repaired thin tear in the upper left of the reverse of the larger panel, a small tear in the upper left on the reverse of the smaller panel and a small tear in the lower right of the front of the small panel. These tears have been repaired and there is corresponding retouching under UV light. Under UV light there are scattered small dots and strokes of inpainting on both sides of the screen, primarily in the lightest pigments, which could be minimized.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

One of the first to produce deliberately abstract paintings, Balla was a leader and a key signatory of the Futurist Manifesto, an aesthetic treatise that was spearheaded by the writer Marinetti in 1909 and adapted for the visual arts by Boccioni in 1910. The experimental and revolutionary movement sought to invade every aspect of life in booming turn-of-the-century Italy by bringing together art and life for the masses in a way that abandoned traditional values, conventional aesthetics and cultural preconceptions.  Fascinated with the pace of modern life and excited by new technology, Balla threw himself with abandon into the forefront of the Futurist movement, taking a leading role and forging its path toward abstraction.

Although he signed the “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting” in April 1910, his work did not respond to the Manifesto’s demand for paintings that focused on modern dynamism, the triumphs of technology, or sensations of speed until late in 1911, and it was not until the Spring of 1912 that he launched his earliest series of motion studies, notably The Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, a cropped “close-up” of a dog’s rotating legs, its spinning leash and the multiplied steps of its female walker (see fig. 1). At this time Balla executed a seminal group of works on the theme of cars and figures in movement, exploring the ultimate concepts of Futurism: dynamism, speed and light. However, it was not until he saw the photodynamics of the Bragaglia brothers that his research on this theme entered a new phase, resulting in a radical change of style and ultimately a number of works that are now regarded as icons of Futurist art.

Balla was directly influenced by E. J. Marey’s chronophotography, which was a technique that captures sequences of movement in a single frame, and the Bragaglia brothers’ photodynamisms, which were photographs of motion captured by a long exposure (see fig. 2). The result of these influences in Balla’s painting was the dematerialization of form and the deconstruction of the image in a way that enabled the artist to translate the visual effect of movement into a pictorial language. In 1915 Balla and Fortunato Depero wrote the Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe (see fig. 3). They stated, “We Futurists, Balla and Depero, seek to realize this total fusion in order to reconstruct the universe making it more joyful, in other words by a complete re-creation.” At this point in time, as is evident in Paravento con linea di velocità, Balla’s work became increasingly more abstract. He drew upon the repetitive rhythms and forces of motion, which manifested in his work as the fusion of an object and its surrounding space, and created brilliant overlapping patches and strokes of color that blurred figure and ground (see fig. 4). 

The present work reflects Balla’s transition from his kinetic, analytical phase toward the concept of complete abstraction in which he reduced light, speed and dynamic motion into a synthesis of line and color. His focus had shifted from the moving object to the essence of movement itself, and the dynamic sensation of speed became an autonomous entity, not to mention the chief subject of his work. Balla’s two-sided Paravento con linea di velocità is one of very few hinged and painted screens that Balla is known to have created at this time (see fig. 6). These works push painting to its dimensional limits: they are vessels of Futurist progress and a force of jarring sensation grounded in motion. In the present work, the prominence of curves and pointed corners, rather than edges and geometric angles found in Balla’s earlier paintings such as Automobile in Corsa (fig. 7), uniquely and dramatically renders the movement of light through space. The medium of the screen itself, this two-sided oil painting on hinges, is mobile. Balla’s uniquely shaped canvas is painted on all sides and integrates surface, frame, motif and environmental surroundings in a way that was previously unexplored. Balla thus created a work that is dynamic in form and medium as well as optically unpredictable in nature, a true manifestation of Futurist ideals.

Brief yet significant, Futurism changed the course of the modern aesthetic. Influencing nearly every subsequent movement from Dadaism to Surrealism to Art Deco and beyond, Futurism owes much of its legacy to Balla himself. The year Balla painted Paravento con linea di velocità, a 1917 publication of Sic, the Parisian magazine edited by Pierre Albert-Birot, wrote, “Balla will remain the artist who first traced out this path, and this fact on its own is enough to consecrate his very real value as an artist and innovator” (Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco, Balla: The Futurist, Milan, 1987, p. 24).