UMBERTO BOCCIONITesta + luce + ambiente
- Umberto Boccioni
- Testa + luce + ambiente
- oil on canvas
Margherita Sarfatti, Rome (acquired by 1959)
Sarfatti Collection, Italy (by descent from the above)
Fondazione VAF, Lichtenstein (acquired by 1990)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998
Rome, Galleria Futurista, Esposizione di pittura futurista, 1914, no. 3
Naples, Galleria Futurista, Prima esposizione di pittura futurista, 1914, no. 6
Milan, Galleria Centrale d’Arte (Palazzo Cova), Grande Esposizione Boccioni. Pittore e Scultore futurista, 1916-17, possibly no. 254, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Testa + finestra + luce)
Rome, Palazzo Barberini, Il Futurismo, 1959, no. 84
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum & Munich, Städtische Galerie & Lenbachgalerie, Il Futurismo, 1959-60, no. 26 (as dating from 1912-13)
Venice, XXXIII Biennale Internazionale d’Arte di Venezia, Retrospettiva di Boccioni, 1966, no. 68
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Galleria d'Arte Moderna Falsetti, Omaggio a Umberto Boccioni, 1971-72, no. XVI, illustrated in the catalogue; illustrated in colour on the cover of the catalogue
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Boccioni e il suo tempo, 1973-74, no. 164, illustrated in the catalogue
Florence, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Futurismo a Firenze 1910-1920, 1984, illustrated in the catalogue
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie (on loan 1990-1998)
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Memoria del futuro. Arte italiano desde las primeras vanguardias a la posguerra, 1990-91, no. 501, illustrated in the catalogue
Tokyo, Sezon Museum of Art; Sapporo, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art; Sendai, The Miyagi Museum of Art & Otsu, The Museum of Modern Art, Futurismo 1909-1944, 1992, no. II-8, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Paolo Baldacci Gallery, Balla + Boccioni, 1993, illustrated in the catalogue
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Italia Nova. Une aventure de l'art italien 1900-1950, 2006, no. 8, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Maria Drudi Gambillo & Teresa Fiori (eds.), Archivi del Futurismo, Rome, 1962, vol. II, no. 384, illustrated p. 244
Guido Ballo, Boccioni la vita e l'opera, Milan, 1964, no. 486, illustrated pl. 159
Marianne W. Martin, Futurist Art and Theory 1909-1915, Oxford, 1968, mentioned p. 168
Gianfranco Bruno, L’opera completa di Boccioni, Milan, 1969, no. 156, illustrated p. 109
Donald E. Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions 1900–1916, Munich, 1974, vol. II, listed pp. 758 & 793
Maurizio Calvesi & Ester Coen, Boccioni. L'opera completa, Milan, 1983, no. 793, illustrated p. 444 (with incorrect measurements)
Giorgio Verzotti, Boccioni. Catalogo completo dei dipinti, Florence, 1989, no. 122, illustrated p. 123
Maurizio Calvesi & Alberto Dambruoso, Boccioni. Catalogo generale, Turin, 2016, no. 405, illustrated (with incorrect measurements)
The term ‘futurism’ was first coined in 1908 by the poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti; in February 1909 he published the first Futurist manifesto in which he set out his intentions for a new type of poetry. That same month he met with Carlo Carrà, Umberto Boccioni and Luigi Russolo and they began work on a second manifesto that incorporated the visual arts; it was published a year later with the support of Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla and Futurist painting was born. The movement demanded a definitive break with the art of the past, and particularly the classical tradition that was so manifest in Italy; it was envisaged not just as an art form for the modern age, but as the modern art.
The movement was daring, assertive, participatory, dynamic; they proclaimed a desire to ‘re-enter life’ through a focus on speed, change and violence. In order to capture the experience of modern life they sought to render not only a visual impression but also the sounds and sensations of the city. In part this was a resistance against the anonymity of contemporary experience; their painting was focused on the human – and individual – experience. As Joshua C. Taylor explains: ‘Motion for the Futurist painter was not an objective fact to be analysed, but simply a modern means for embodying a strong personal expression’ (J. C. Taylor, in Futurism (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1961, p. 10).
While their ideas about motion initially centred on it as a subject – in the literal sense of painting a car, a train, an aeroplane – they came also to encompass the idea of the movement (or dynamism) within an object. They argued that there is no fixed object, only the perception of an object within a constantly shifting framework of colour and light. As Taylor writes of the Futurists: ‘They agreed with them [the Impressionists] that no object, moving or still, can be seen in isolation, but absorbs its surroundings just as it contributes to them. The Futurists saw this interplay between object and environment, expressed by the Impressionists in their complex broken colour, as a continuous reciprocal activity and wanted to make the action more patent by extending its influence to the very forms of the objects […]. They looked upon all objects, in fact, whether a static bottle or a racing horse, as embodying two kinds of motion: that which tends to move in on itself, suggesting in its centripetal force the internal mass of an object; and that which moves outward into space mingling its rhythms with those of other objects and eventually merging with space itself’ (ibid., p. 12).
These ideas led each of the Futurists in different directions. Unlike many of the art movements of the modern age, Futurism was primarily theoretical rather than a formal. Whilst the work of the Impressionists and the Italian Divisionists and their investigations into the nature of perception remained integral, each artist adopted their own stylistic mode. Severini retained the influence of Divisionist fragmentation whilst Balla developed his own distinctive style focused on evoking fast-paced motion. In 1911 Boccioni, accompanied by Carrà, had travelled to Paris and this trip was to have a profound impact on his artistic vision. His contact with the Cubist art of Picasso (figs. 4 & 5) and Braque presented new possibilities for the way that light and motion might be used to overcome concrete form. It also showed Boccioni how he might achieve both fragmentation of form and a visual clarity, although there remained the difficulty of combining the rigid and ‘pure’ geometry of Cubism with the intuitive, spiritual and personal impulse of Futurism. In the paintings made following this visit it is possible to trace Boccioni's attempts at resolving this ‘problem’, culminating in the canvases of the following year.
Testa + luce + ambiente belongs to this group of paintings; along with Boccioni’s great masterpiece Materia (fig. 3) it represents the apotheosis of his painterly vision. In 1912 he had also begun to focus increasingly on sculpture – influenced initially by the work of Medardo Rosso and then much more apparently by Picasso’s Cubist sculpture (fig. 5) – and this new awareness of the three-dimensional introduced a new volumetric plasticity to his painting. As Ester Coen explains: ‘From this point forward, as seen in experiments conducted, the different planes of the image intersect and create solid and reciprocal formal influences. In contrast to the decomposition of volume pioneered by the Cubists, Boccioni proposes a dynamic synthesis of vision through the simultaneity of forms and the interpenetration of figure and environment, and this was, as he wrote, in order to “create the duration of the appearance, or in other words, to let the object live in its form”. In Testa + luce + ambiente, where the style echoes contemporary studies for the scultura polimetrica (made from several materials) titled Fusione di una testa e di una finestra, the effect is also achieved by working with light which is considered a formal subject in the same way as the other elements of the composition’ (E. Coen, in Italia Nova. Une aventure de l'art italien 1900-1950, op. cit., p. 76, translated from French).
In his manifesto on sculpture, published in April 1912, Boccioni announced: ‘We will break open the figure and enclose it in its environment’ and Testa + luce + ambiente illustrates the height of his achievements in this respect. The figure at the heart of the composition is wholly subsumed into her surroundings; she is everything and everywhere and so we perceive simultaneously window and picture frame and fruit bowl and table and figure and face. The viewer is brought fully into the experience of the painting. Testa + luce + ambiente comes as close as any of these works to the truth that he sought; that ‘there are, in our futurist paintings and sculpture, unwavering truths. Every shadow has its light, and this independent pair constitute a new dark-light which is an individual in itself and therefore no longer a form perceived through shadow, or through light, as has been the case until now, but a light-form’ (ibid., p. 76, translated from French).
This painting has an illustrious history. It was first owned by Bruno Corradini, known also as Bruno Corra, who was an Italian writer and screenwriter closely associated with the Futurists. He collaborated with Balla and Marinetti on the film Futurist Life and published a futurist novel. Testa + luce + ambiente subsequently passed to the prominent journalist and art critic Margherita Sarfatti. Sarfatti moved to Milan in 1902 where she and her husband hosted weekly salons that were at the centre of the Futurist and Novecento movements. She met Boccioni in 1909 and the two became close; Boccioni painted a portrait of her daughter, Fiammetta, a couple of years later. Testa + luce + ambiente remained in the Sarfatti family collection for over fifty years.