Room of Umberto Boccioni, Museum of the Twentieth Century

On the first floor there are works from the Jucker collection and the futurists. Of particular interest, among the works of the futurist artist Boccioni (1882-1916), one of the various specimens of the famous sculpture Unique forms of continuity in space, exhibited in the room dedicated to the artist.

The Collection begins with a tribute paid to international avant-garde movements, with paintings from the early 1900’s by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, Kandinsky, and Amedeo Modigliani. The exhibition continues with Futurism, represented by a nucleus of artwork unique the world over, displaying Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Fortunato Depero, Gino Severini, Carlo Carrà, and Ardengo Soffici.

Umberto Boccioni (19 October 1882 – 17 August 1916) was an influential Italian painter and sculptor. He helped shape the revolutionary aesthetic of the Futurism movement as one of its principal figures. Despite his short life, his approach to the dynamism of form and the deconstruction of solid mass guided artists long after his death. His works are held by many public art museums, and in 1988 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City organized a major retrospective of 100 pieces.

Umberto’s parents were Raffaele Boccioni and Cecilia Forlani, originally from Morciano di Romagna (25 km from Rimini). The father, who worked as a prefect usher, was forced to move to Italy based on service needs. Umberto was born on 19 October 1882 in Reggio Calabria; here he attended the first classes of elementary school, subsequently the family moved to Forlì, then to Genoa and Padua. In 1897 came the order for a new transfer to Catania. This time the family separated: Umberto and his father went to Sicily; the mother with her older sister Amelia, born in Rome, remained in Veneto. In Catania Umberto attended the technical institute until obtaining the diploma. He collaborated with some local newspapers and wrote his first novel: Penis of the soul which bears the date 6 July 1900.

In 1901 Umberto moved to Rome, where his father was transferred again. He often visits the house of Aunt Colomba. In a short time he falls in love with one of his daughters, Sandrina. Umberto is about twenty years old and attends the study of a poster artist, where he learns the first rudiments of painting. In this period he met Gino Severini, with whom he attended, in Porta Pinciana, the studio of the divisionist painter Giacomo Balla. At the beginning of 1903 Umberto and Severini attend the Free School of Nude, where they meet Mario Sironi, also a pupil of Balla, with whom they will make a lasting friendship. In that year Umberto painted his first work Campagna Romana or Meriggio.

With the help of both parents he manages to travel abroad: the first destination is Paris (April-August 1906), followed by Russia from which he returns in November of the same year. In Paris he met Augusta Popoff: from their relationship a son, Pëtr (Pietro) was born in April 1907. In April 1907 Umberto enrolled in the Free School of Nude of the Royal Institute of Fine Arts in Venice. He begins another journey to Russia but interrupts him in Munich, where he visits the museum. On his return he draws, paints actively, while remaining unfulfilled because he feels the limits of the Italian culture which he still considers essentially “provincial culture”. In the meantime, he faces his first experiences in the field of engraving.

In the autumn of 1907 he went to Milan for the first time, where his mother and sister had lived for some months. He immediately senses that it is the city more than others on the rise and that it corresponds to its dynamic aspirations. He becomes a friend of Romolo Romani, he frequents Previati, of which he influences some influence in his painting which seems to turn to symbolism. He becomes a member of the Permanente. During these formative years, visit many museums and art galleries. It has, therefore, the possibility to know directly works of artists of every age but, especially, ancient. Some of these, such as Michelangelo, will always remain his ideal models.

Despite this, they will also become the main targets of the controversy launched in the futurist period against ancient art and against the past. In 1907 he met the Divisionists in Milan and with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, together with Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini, he wrote the Manifesto of Futurist Painters (1910), which was followed by the Technical Manifesto of the Futurist Movement (1912): the goal of the modern artist had to be, according to the drafters, to free himself from the models and figurative traditions of the past, to turn resolutely to the contemporary, dynamic, lively, constantly evolving world.

As subjects of the representation, therefore, the city, the machines, the chaotic daily reality were proposed. In his works, Boccioni masterfully expressed the movement of forms and the concreteness of matter. Although influenced by cubism, to which he reproached excessive static, Boccioni avoided straight lines in his paintings and used complementary colors. In paintings such as Dynamism of a cyclist (1913), or Dynamism of a football player (1911), the representation of the same subject in successive stages over time effectively suggests the idea of moving in space. Sculpture also governs similar intentby Boccioni, for which the artist often neglected noble materials such as marble and bronze, preferring wood, iron and glass. He was interested in illustrating the interaction of a moving object with the surrounding space. Very few of his sculptures have survived.

Within the Humanitarian Society where he has just finished the great painting “Il Lavoro” (today at MoMA in New York with the title The City Rises), in April-May 1911, with Ugo Nebbia, Carlo Dalmazzo Carrà, Alessandrina Ravizza and others, gives life to Milan at the First Pavilion of Free Art, an imposing exhibition with ultra-modern guidelines, where the first ever collective of futurist painters will also be held (in the disused Giulio Ricordi pavilions).

In 1912 Boccioni inaugurated a period of intense studies both in view of the publication of his most important theoretical text, Futurist painting and sculpture (1914), and in view of the realization of the masterpiece Materia (1912). Consult many volumes of historical-artistic and philosophical subjects of which he draws up a list of titles. In particular, he deepens his knowledge of the thought of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, reading the book Materia e memoria (1896). Bergson’s theories on spontaneous memory, understood as an intuition of the fundamental unity of matter, suggest to Boccioni the idea of the interpenetration of the planes as “simultaneity of the interior with the exterior + memory + sensation”, allowing him to combine personal memories during the creative process (familiar, for example) to suggestions deriving from ancient or primitive art, to the decomposition of cubist forms. In the oil on canvas Materia, for example, Boccioni makes a portrait of his mother Cecilia Forlani, deified as Great Mother, integrating the cubist decomposition and the use of complementary colors of impressionist derivation with the hieratic frontality of the Greek statuaryfrom the archaic era.

Among the books consulted in 1912, in fact, Boccioni cites, in his list, the tome VIII, dedicated to archaic sculpture, and in particular page 689, of the multi-volume work of Georges Perrot and Charles Chipiez, Histoire de dell’arte dans l’antiquité (1882-1914) in which the two authors deal with the so-called law of frontality in ancient statuary.

Among the most relevant pictorial works by Boccioni are Il Lavoro (The City That Goes Up) (1910), Rissa in Galleria (1910), Stati d’animo n. 1. Farewells (1911) – in which the movements of the soul are expressed through flashes of light, spirals and wavy lines arranged diagonally – Forces of a road (1911), where the city, almost a living organism, has a preponderant weight human presences.

In 1915 Italy enters the war. Boccioni, interventionist, volunteers, together with a group of artists, in the National Corps of Volunteer Cyclists and Motorists, but has no opportunity to go into combat. In a letter from the October 1915 front the painter wrote, in fact, that war “when one expects to fight, is only this: insects + boredom = dark heroism….”.

In June 1916 Boccioni (who was waiting to leave for the front at the time) was a guest of the Marquis Della Valle di Casanova in Villa San Remigio, on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore. In the same period Vittoria Colonna, while her husband Leone Caetani is at the front, spends his days in the quiet of the Isolino di San Giovanni (the smallest of the Borromean Islands), which he rented for the summer. Here she takes care of the garden and writes letters to her husband. After a first meeting with the Casanova, Boccioni and Vittoria begin to see each other every day. And, during the month of July, Boccioni is twice a guest of Vittoria all’Isolino. The last stay ends on July 23rd; less than a month later, on August 17, he will die of a fall from a horse; in his wallet, the last of the letters received by Vittoria .

On August 17, 1916 Boccioni died at the age of 33 at the military hospital in Verona, from the injuries sustained following the accidental fall from his mare, who got mad at the sight of a truck. The fall took place the day before during a military exercise, in the locality of Sorte in Chievo, a hamlet of Verona, where today his commemorative plaque is located, in a narrow street immersed in the countryside. Boccioni’s body was instead buried in the monumental cemetery of Verona, in the ancient calti of the second camp, next to which the mother also wanted to be buried. On the marble that closes and bears the artist’s name, one can observe the written testimonies left by other visiting artists and acquaintances.

His Works

Early portraits and landscapes
From 1902 to 1910, Boccioni focused initially on drawings, then sketched and painted portraits – with his mother as a frequent model. He also painted landscapes – often including the arrival of industrialization, trains and factories for example. During this period, he weaves between Pointillism and Impressionism, and the influence of Giacomo Balla, and Divisionism techniques are evident in early paintings (although later largely abandoned). The Morning (1909) was noted for “the bold and youthful violence of hues” and as “a daring exercise in luminosity.” His 1909–10 Three Women, which portrays his mother and sister, and longtime lover Ines at center, was cited as expressing great emotion – strength, melancholy and love.

Development of Futurism
Boccioni worked for nearly a year on La città sale or The City Rises, 1910, a huge (2m by 3m) painting, which is considered his turning point into Futurism. “I attempted a great synthesis of labor, light and movement” he wrote to a friend. Upon its exhibition in Milan in May 1911, the painting attracted numerous reviews, mostly admiring. By 1912 it had become a headline painting for the exhibition traveling Europe, the introduction to Futurism. It was sold to the great pianist, Ferruccio Busoni for 4,000 lire that year, and today is frequently on prominent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at the entrance to the paintings department.

La risata (1911, The Laugh) is considered Boccioni’s first truly Futurist work. He had fully parted with Divisionism, and now focused on the sensations derived from his observation of modern life. Its public reception was quite negative, compared unfavorably with Three Women, and it was defaced by a visitor, running his fingers through the still fresh paint. Subsequent criticism became more positive, with some considering the painting a response to Cubism. It was purchased by Albert Borchardt, a German collector who acquired 20 Futurist works exhibited in Berlin, including The Street Enters the House (1911) which depicts a woman on a balcony overlooking a busy street. Today the former also is owned by the Museum of Modern Art, and the latter by the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.

Boccioni spent much of 1911 working on a trilogy of paintings titled “Stati d’animo” (“States of Mind”), which he said expressed departure and arrival at a railroad station – The Farewells, Those Who Go, and Those Who Stay. All three paintings were originally purchased by Marinetti, until Nelson Rockefeller acquired them from his widow and later donated them to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Beginning in 1912, with Elasticità or Elasticity, depicting the pure energy of a horse, captured with intense chromaticism, he completed a series of Dynamist paintings: Dinamismo di un corpo umano (Human Body), ciclista (Cyclist), Foot-baller, and by 1914 Dinamismo plastico: cavallo + caseggiato (Plastic Dynamism: Horse + Houses).

While continuing this focus, he revived his previous interest in portraiture. Beginning with L’antigrazioso (The antigraceful) in 1912 and continuing with I selciatori (The Street Pavers) and Il bevitore (The Drinker) both in 1914.

In 1914 Boccioni published his book, Pittura, scultura futuriste (Futurist Painting and Sculpture), which caused a rift between himself and some of his Futurist comrades. As a result, perhaps, he abandoned his exploration of Dynamism, and instead sought further decomposition of a subject by means of colour. With Horizontal Volumes in 1915 and the Portrait of Ferruccio Busoni in 1916, he completed a full return to figurative painting. Perhaps fittingly, this last painting was a portrait of the maestro who purchased his first Futurist work, The City Rises.

The writing of his Manifesto tecnico della scultura futurista (Technical manifesto of Futurist sculpture), published on 11 April 1912, was Boccioni’s intellectual and physical launch into sculpture; he had begun working in sculpture in the previous year.

By the end of 1913 he had completed what is considered his masterpiece, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space), in wax. His goal for the work was to depict a “synthetic continuity” of motion, instead of an “analytical discontinuity” that he saw in such artists as František Kupka and Marcel Duchamp. During his life, the work only existed as a plaster cast. It was first cast in bronze in 1931. This sculpture has been the subject of extensive commentary, and in 1998 it was selected as the image to be engraved on the back of the Italian 20-cent euro coin.

Soon after Boccioni’s death in 1916 (and after a memorial exhibition was held in Milan), his family entrusted them for an impermanent time to a fellow sculptor, Piero da Verona; da Verona then requested that his assistant place them in the local rubbish-dump. Marinetti’s outraged account of the destruction of the sculptures was slightly different; in his memoirs, he stated that the sculptures were destroyed by workmen to clear the room the “envious passèist narrow-minded sculptor” had placed them. Thus, much of his experimental work from late 1912 to 1913 was destroyed, including pieces relating to contemporaneous paintings, which are known only through photographs. One of the few surviving pieces is the Antigrazioso (Anti-Graceful, also called The Mother).

In 2019, the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art held an exhibition reconstructing several of the destroyed sculptures.

The Exhibition
The Museo del Novecento’s collection allows visitors to fully grasp the artistic journey of early Futurism’s greatest exponent: from paintings still in a Divisionist vein such as “La Signora Virginia” (Mrs Virginia, 1905) through to well-known and more representative examples of the abstract experience such as the sculpture “Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio” (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913).

La signora Virginia, Umberto Boccioni, 1905
Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio, Umberto Boccioni, 1913

Umberto Boccioni and the Futurism
Umberto Boccioni, born in Reggio Calabria in 1882, arrived in Milan in 1908 after living in Padua and Venice and studying at Giacomo Balla’s studio in Rome alongside Gino Severini and Mario Sironi. It was in the capital of Lombardy, the hub of modernity and economic development in early 20th-century Italy, that Boccioni met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1910. Together, they contributed to the offensive against cultural traditionalism by joining the Futurist movement: alongside Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini, Boccioni signed the “Manifesto of the Futurist Painters” and the “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting” in 1910.

Stati d’animo – Gli addii, Umberto Boccioni, 1911,
In Stati d’animo,(States of Mind), a triptych created in 1911, he tackles a topic beloved of artists working in that period, using a style that still betrays Divisionist influences in its use of colour.

Stati d’animo – Quelli che vanno, Umberto Boccioni, 1911,
Stati d’animo – Quelli che restano, Umberto Boccioni, 1911,
Studio per gli stati d’animo, Umberto Boccioni,

After Paris
After seeing the works of the Cubists during a trip to Paris in 1912, Boccioni began to reflect on the importance of a work’s geometric composition; he added the thrust and power of movement to the mix, leading to masterpieces such as “Elasticità” (Elasticity) in 1913 and the fragmented forms of “Donna al Caffè“ (Women at the Cafe) and “Costruzione Spiralica” (Spiral Construction).

Elasticità, Umberto Boccioni, 1912,
Donna al caffe – Compenetrazione di luci e piani, Umberto Boccioni, 1912/1914,
Costruzione spiralica, Umberto Boccioni, 1913,

“Sotto il pergolato a Napoli”
His sense of creative urgency eventually led him to outgrow this phase, and the works of his later years were influenced by his study of Cézanne. In “Sotto il pergolato a Napoli” (Under the Pergola in Naples, 1914), the solidity of the forms returns as a central element of the painting, albeit accompanied by many innovative elements. Boccioni died in 1916 after falling from a horse. His premature death curtailed an artistic phase that would undoubtedly have led to further experimentation.

Museum of the twentieth century in Milan
The Museo del Novecento in Milan is a permanent exhibition of 20th century works of art housed in the Palazzo dell’Arengario and the adjacent Royal Palace in Milan. The museum absorbed the collections of the previous Civic Museum of Contemporary Art (CIMAC) which was located on the second floor of the Royal Palace and which was closed in 1998.

The Museo del Novecento, located inside the Palazzo dell’Arengario in Piazza del Duomo, hosts a collection of over four thousand works that catalyze the development of 20th century Italian art.

The Museo del Novecento was established on 6 December 2010 with the goal of spreading knowledge of 20th century art and offering a more comprehensive insight into the collections that the city of Milan has inherited over time. Beside its core exhibition activity, the Museum is active in the conservation, investigation and promotion of 20th century Italian cultural and artistic heritage with the final aim of reaching an ever wider audience.

Apart from a single room housing works by foreign artists including Braque, Kandinsky, Klee, Léger, Matisse, Mondrian and Picasso, the majority of the works exhibited in the museum are by Italian artists. A major section is devoted to the Italian Futurists, with works by Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Fortunato Depero, Luigi Russolo, Gino Severini, Mario Sironi and Ardengo Soffici. Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s large canvas Il Quarto Stato (1902) is also exhibited in a room on its own.

Other sections of the museum are dedicated to individual artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana and Morandi. There are also sections devoted to art movements of the twentieth century, including Abstractionism, Arte Povera, the Novecento Italiano, Post-Impressionism and Realism, and to genres such as landscape and monumental art.