Giacomo Balla

The Italian painter Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) was one of the founders of futurism, an Italian art movement.

Giacomo Balla was born on July 24, 1871, in Turin. He was already appreciated as an academic painter when he first encountered impressionist and divisionist painting during a visit to Paris at the turn of the century. The problems of light and color intrigued him. On his return to Rome he enthusiastically imparted his new-found postimpressionist theories to the painters Gino Severini and Umberto Boccioni. The poet F. T. Marinetti converted Balla to futurism.

Futurism was a movement with a program of belligerent modernism, both in an ethical and esthetic sense. A determined acceptance of the age of the machine and an admiration of speed were its main points. As a style, futurism evolved from the revolutionary tenets of analytical cubism. It brought to modern art an emphasis on the visualization of the kinetic principle and a contempt for all traditional modes of esthetic expression. Thus Marinetti declared: "We have already put behind us the grotesque burial of passéist Beauty… We shall sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and boldness. … We declare that the world's splendor has been enriched by a new beauty, the beauty of speed. A speeding motor car … is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace."

Although Balla was one of five painters who signed the Futurist Manifesto of 1910, he did not take part (despite the fact that his name figured in the catalog) in the important exhibition of futurist painting in Paris in 1912. It was Balla, however, who that year painted the first, most original, and somewhat witty visual depiction of movement in the novel futurist manner; it depicted the legs of a lady and a dog on a leash in successive phases of the action of walking. Another painting in a similar style was Rhythm of the Violinist.

A more complex interpretation of the kinetic principle occurred to Balla after reading Severini's Expansion sphérique dans l'espace (Spherical Expansion in Space). In 1913/1914 Balla showed a marked preference for massive scrolls, with the help of which he re-created the illusion of depth. Also dating from this period are his cosmogonic themes (such as Mercury Passing in front of the Sun), which are among the most abstract pictures produced by the futurists.

During the 1920s Balla remained faithful to the futurist movement. Later on he painted figurative compositions and abstract studies. What he aimed at as a mature artist was a synthesis of physical movement and emotional and mental attitudes. Balla lived most of his life in Rome, where he died on March 6, 1958.


Further Reading on Giacomo Balla

Information on Balla is in Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Cubism and Abstract Art (1936); James Thrall Soby and Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Twentieth-Century Italian Art (1949); and Raffaele Carrieri, Avant-Grade Painting and Sculpture (1890-1955) in Italy (1955) and Futurism (1961; trans. 1963).