1. Early work, to 1909
Source: Oxford University Press
Boccioni spent his childhood years in Forlì, Genoa and Padua, then finished his studies in Catania and began to involve himself with literature. In 1899 he moved to Rome, where he developed a passionate interest in painting and frequented the Scuola Libera del Nudo. In Rome he met Gino Severini, with whom he made visits to the studio of Giacomo Balla, who taught them the basic principles of the divisionist technique and encouraged them to experiment with the application of colour in small overlapping brushstrokes. Inspired by his own pictorial experiments, Balla also urged them to develop a compositional method using angles and foreshortening analogous to photographic techniques. It was Balla who first introduced them to the use of complementary colours, which Boccioni later expressed in increasingly dramatic and violent ways, and it was Balla who instilled in him the love of landscape and nature that remained a constant feature of all his painting. In his first years of activity, closely following his master’s teaching, Boccioni produced oil paintings, sketches, pastels, studies in tempera and advertising posters.
In the spring of 1906 Boccioni grew tired of the provincial life he was living and went to Paris. The French metropolis had an extraordinary impact on him; he was astonished and fascinated by its modernity. That sensation accounts for the more rapid rendering of his palette and the more complex spatial structure of the pictures he made in the following years. In late August 1906 he went to Russia with a Russian family he had met in Paris. Few works are known from that period, and there is no documentation that might throw light on his interests and contacts with artistic circles in France and Russia. He returned to Italy in December 1906, settling in Padua (where his mother and sister lived), but very soon he felt suffocated by the life of that small provincial city. His thoughts and anxieties in that period were recorded in a diary that provides an exceptionally rich fund of information. In its pages he raised questions about the meaning of his painting and expressed the desire to seek new forms, abandoning the styles and subjects of the past.
In this feverish search Boccioni felt the need to move away from Balla’s teaching and from divisionistic verism, which no longer seemed to him to offer anything new. The search for artistic ‘truth’ was really blocking his progress towards a more contemporary pictorial vision and preventing him from finding more modern solutions. These he now found in the intensification of light contrasts.
In Venice, between April and August 1907, Boccioni learnt how to etch and produced numerous prints (e.g. Maria Sacchi Reading, drypoint, 1907; see 1988 exh. cat., p. 33). After this brief episode he decided to move to Milan, and in October he spent a week in Paris to see the exhibition Salon des peintres divisionnistes italiens organized by the Galerie d’Art Moderne Italienne A. Grubicy. His first months in Milan were difficult and full of problems. In his diary entry of 27 September 1907 (Birolli, ed., 1971, p. 264) he wrote: ‘I don’t know if I ought to transform a literary or philosophic vision into a pictorial one. Yesterday I wondered whether I had lost my love for colour, as I find I keep drawing without thinking of my brushes.’
In his attempt to find new solutions Boccioni now moved towards the painting of Gaetano Previati. He retraced the path of divisionism and Expressionism, accentuating the linear quality of his paintings and loading his subjects with heavy colour. His oscillation between the poles of Neo-Impressionism and Expressionism explains the very diverse and discontinuous results achieved in the period between 1907 and 1909 in such works as Portrait of the Sculptor (1907; Milan, Col. Italia Assicur.), Mourning (1909; ex-Shultz priv. col., New York, see Ballo, p. 175) and Stage Mistress (1909–10; priv. col.).
From Grove Art Online