The City Rises

Umber Boccioni The City Rises

As an ideology, Futurism first existed as poetry.

The most gifted Futurist, Umberto Boccioni, helped shape the revolutionary aesthetic of the crusade. The City Rises was the Italian’s first pure Futurist painting  – it articulates dynamic movement, rendering space through perspective.

Boccioni doesn’t abandon naturalism with his vision – he uses it to verbalise a critical and rebellious cry. He distanced himself from painting as ‘proscenium’ – a small square of life artificially compressed.

‘We drove on, crushing beneath our burning wheels, like shirt-collars under the iron, the watch dogs on the steps of the houses.’

The earliest Futurist problem was translating their vision into paint.

Speed and dynamism thrust across the canvas and the powerful horse dissipates under its own strength. The heroic straining energy of this red beast and the movement, violence and noise communicate urgency, progress and force.

Behind the formidable horse looms the growing city, scaffolding expanding upwards chasing chimneys towards the Sun.

‘Let us leave good sense behind like a hideous husk and let us hurl ourselves, like fruit spiced with pride, into the immense mouth and breast of the world! Let us feed the unknown, not from despair, but simply to enrich the unfathomable reservoirs of the Absurd!’

The colourful polemic of Filippo Marinetti‘s Futurist Manifesto glorified war and pre-empted some of the cultural and social stances of Fascism; so an objective reading of the Manifesto is difficult in the light of the events of the 20th century.

However, American Abstract Expressionists found optimism in Futurist ideals, Duchamp recognised movement and the Cubists in their last, synthetic stage appropriated some anarchic vitality. Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s later work shares the radical dynamism of his Italian brethren.

Boccioni met an untimely demise during the ‘hygiene of civilisation’. Falling off his horse during cavalry training for World War I, he was trampled and died shortly after, he was thirty-four years old.

 The City Rises, 1910, Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, Courtesy Museum of Modern Art. 

-Helen D. Cogswell


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