Carlo Carrà’s Funeral of the Anarchist Galli is a landmark image from the moment when the artist first developed his Futurist idiom and began to explore definitive Futurist themes: the modern metropolis, crowd dynamics, and political revolt. At the time of its making, Carrà sympathized with radical leftist politics, and this painting represents an event he witnessed: a riot that broke out at the funeral of Angelo Galli, an anarchist shot during a 1904 general strike in Milan. The composition is activated by energized lines and fractured space, with red and black paint adding drama to the frenzied scene. With these strategies, Carrà hoped to achieve the Futurist goal of placing the spectator at the center of the picture.
Umberto Boccioni continued to paint in a Divisionist style until he took an October 1911 trip to Paris (with Carlo Carrà) to visit fellow Futurist Gino Severini and saw French Cubist works firsthand. Upon returning to Milan, he revisited a subject he had painted before—a couple parting in a train station—adapting certain Cubist elements to his own purposes. In this second version, Boccioni moved away from pointillistic brushwork and toward angular and fragmented forms. At the same time, he rejected the muted tones and static compositions of Cubist paintings, concentrating on color, movement, and the synthesis of multiple events. The last was a concept influenced by French philosopher Henri Bergson’s writings on the intuitive dimensions of time and space. This work encapsulates the psychological experience of bidding farewell in three narrative segments, with individuals engulfed by motion and crowds to suggest the frenetic and alienating experience of modern city life.
For Gino Severini, dance was an ideal subject through which to study movement. Unlike the other first-generation Futurists, Severini lived in Paris and was greatly influenced by the city’s cafés, cabarets, and dance halls, which epitomized modernity to him. Several of Severini’s Futurist cohorts visited him in 1911 and all were inspired by their exposure to Cubism. Blue Dancer, executed soon after this historic visit, signals the new integration of Cubist elements into Futurist artistic production. The painting uses interpenetrating planes to depict simultaneity and motion, and features metallic sequins as collage elements applied to the dancer’s dress, which enhance the painted illusion of refracted light.
The years leading up to World War I are often called Futurism’s “heroic” phase. In this era colored by optimism, the Futurists worked in a mature avant-garde language; their compositions edged toward abstraction and they reinvented traditional artistic forms. The group also acquired members beyond the initial Milan–Rome axis. In Florence, for example, Giovanni Papini and Ardengo Soffici became involved with the movement. Their journal Lacerba (1913–15) published history-making exchanges on Futurism.
Futurist visual artists agreed that the representation of dynamism and simultaneity was tantamount, but were divided on how to achieve this. Giacomo Balla examined trajectories of movement. The Iridescent Interpenetrations, which are thought to illustrate light’s movement in electromagnetic waves, are his attempt to portray the universal dynamics that permit speed. These explorations informed his later Abstractions of Speed, a series prompted by the reflections of passing cars in shopwindows. Balla realized his own visual vocabulary for velocity by combining the Futurist principles of dynamism and simultaneity with allusions to light, sound, and smell. On the other hand, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini sought to represent the distorting effects of motion on a subject. Boccioni looked to the action of the athletic body, merging figure and ground in his activated renderings of a rider on a galloping horse and of a cyclist racing through a landscape. Severini’s exposure to Parisian cafes, cabarets, and dance halls compelled him to study movement through dance, painting fragmented, whirling forms.
Revolutionary literary and architectural experiments also occurred in these years. The Futurists pioneered a style of visual poetry they called parole in libertà, or “words-in-freedom.” Introduced by F. T. Marinetti, words-in-freedom was seized upon in the 1910s by Futurist painters and writers who produced confrontational, unorthodox sketches (tavole parolibere) on modern themes. In 1914 the architects Mario Chiattone and Antonio Sant’Elia each created a series of utopian (and unrealized) designs for the contemporary city. Incorporating new materials and accommodating rapid transport, they reenvisioned urban existence through a vanguard aesthetic based on technology.