3. Sculptures and later paintings, 1912–16
Source: Oxford University Press
In 1912, thanks to the vitality of Marinetti who wanted to spread the Futurist movement on an international scale, the group exhibited in the major European capitals, including Paris, London, Brussels and Berlin. From that same year Boccioni began to show a serious interest in sculpture. In April 1912 he published ‘La scultura futurista’ (Drudi Gambillo and Fiori, eds, pp. 67–72), a ‘technical manifesto’ in which he expressed scathing contempt for traditional sculptural notions:Sculpture must make objects live by rendering their extension in space sensible, systematic and plastic, for no one can any longer imagine that one object ends where another begins; and there is nothing that surrounds our bodies—bottle, automobile, house, tree, street—that does not cut and section them with curves and straight lines…. We proclaim that the environment must become part of the plastic block like a world unto itself, with its own laws; that the pavement can rise up on to our table and that your head can cross the street, while between one house and the other your lamp spins its web of plaster rays.
In this context Boccioni produced his first sculptures in a variety of materials, inserting fragments of substances such as glass, wood or horsehair into the basic plaster structure. Head+House+Light and Fusion of a Head and a Window (both 1912, destr.; see 1988 exh. cat., p. 202) were his first such works, through which he sought to transform the object into a tactile form conceived as the sum of its mass and the space it encompasses. By contrast Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (plaster, 1913; U. São Paulo, Mus. A. Contemp.), later cast in bronze (London, Tate), resulted from a long process of synthesis of form in motion and in relation to the surrounding environment. The striding figure is wedged into the atmosphere; its inner energy is unleashed and fragmented through its own action, forming a unitary complex with the space that surrounds it. The sculpture Development of a Bottle in Space (bronze, New York, MOMA) executed a year earlier manifests the same preoccupations.
During this period Boccioni explored similar concerns in his paintings but arrived at different spatial solutions, achieving an ever greater degree of formal abstraction but still accepting the possibility of creating subjects that are identifiable through their lines of dynamic tension. Making reference to the concept of the Fourth dimension, he asserted: ‘The dynamic form is a sort of fourth dimension in painting and sculpture, which cannot live perfectly without the complete affirmation of the three dimensions that determine volume: height, width and depth’ (Pittura e scultura futuriste, p. 197). In paintings such as Matter (1912; Milan, Dr Gianni Mattioli priv. col., see 1988 exh. cat., p. 139), Horizontal Volumes (1912; Munich, Staatsgal. Mod. Kst) and Elasticity (1912; ex-Brera, Milan) Boccioni accentuated the play of volumes in the figures. In the series of Dynamisms, on the other hand, such as Dynamism of a Footballer (1913; New York, MOMA) and Dynamism of a Human Body (1913–14; Milan, Civ. Mus. A. Contemp.), the main interest lies in the increasingly brilliant and violent colours.
Boccioni was extremely active at this moment and participated in many exhibitions in Rome, Florence, Rotterdam, Paris and Naples. From the beginning of 1914, however, he passed through a more meditative phase, as can be judged from his numerous articles and in the typographic works (in the parole in libertà idiom devised by Marinetti) published in Lacerba. In late 1913 Boccioni had withdrawn into a reflective isolation and had worked out some acute and profound theoretical observations; these were published in book form as Pittura e scultura futuriste (Milan, 1914). In this text he analysed the relationship between Futurist and Cubist painting and emphasized the desire to overcome what he considered the static vision of the French through the dynamism and simultaneity of forms. During this time he also wrote a manifesto on architecture, though this remained unpublished until 1972. After the publication of his book Boccioni passed through a period of profound crisis that coincided with a broader questioning of Futurism itself and a divergence of ideas between him and the other exponents of the group. At the same time he was actively involved in Italian political events: in fact he took part with great fervour in anti-Austrian demonstrations and was imprisoned, together with Marinetti, for burning an Austrian flag. He supported the interventionists in favour of Italy’s entry into World War I.
In his paintings Boccioni now tended towards more volumetric solutions, almost in the manner of Picasso, as in Dynamism of a Woman’s Head and Dynamism of a Man’s Head (both 1914; Milan, Gal. A. Mod.). In the works that followed he showed a renewed interest in light and in chromatic decomposition, as in the Two Friends (Rome, Assitalia priv. col.). In July 1915 Boccioni joined the Battaglione dei Volontari Ciclisti, together with Marinetti, Mario Sironi, Achille Funi, Carlo Erba (1884–1917) and Antonio Sant’Elia. On returning to Milan a few months later he began painting again. He abandoned his heavy palette of strident colours and returned to a figurative mode linked to the French Post-Impressionist tradition and particularly to Cézanne, as in his last work, a portrait of Ferruccio Busoni (1916; Rome, G.N.A. Mod.). In July 1916 Boccioni enlisted in the Italian army and was assigned to the field artillery; he died after falling from a horse.
From Grove Art Online