During the first decade of the twentieth century, a group of young Italian painters united together, under the influence of poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Before creating their new style, these painters embraced the ideas of Marinetti’s The Foundation and Manisfesto of Futurism which appeared in the newspaper Le Figaro on February 20, 1909 (Tisdall 7). His manifesto of futurism was primarily concerned with peotry, but artists such as Boccioni, Balla, and Severini used his ideas and applied them to painting and sculpture.
The Museum of Modern Art holds Umberto Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Soccer Player, 1913, a fine example of the Futurist vision. In his Futurist Painting: A Technical Manifesto, Boccioni tells us that the “growing need of truth is no longer satisfied with Form and Colour as they have been understood hitherto. The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It shall be the “dynamic sensation itself” (Apollonio 27). This goal of creating the dynamic sensation itself, rather than simply a fixed moment within a dynamic action is exemplified, among other ideas of the Futurist movement in Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Soccer Player. Before going further however, it is necessary to discuss some of the principles of Futurism as created by Marinetti.
Marinetti’s The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism is a work which begins like a work of poetry, and deals with the celebration with the technology, the future, and the machine, while rejecting the natural world and the past. Marinetti despises the sounds created by canals “muttering feeble prayers”, and “the creaking bones of sickly palaces,” while he embraces the “famished roar of automobiles” (Apollonio 19-20). He orders us to “shake the gates of life”, and instead, “test the bolts and hinges” (Apollonio 20). To Marinetti, technology and the machine, such as the automobiles, are to be embraced and celebrated for its speed and beauty. No longer is a natural landscape beautiful, rather “the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath – a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot” is seen as more beautiful than any romantic painting (Apollonio 21).
In addition to celebrating the machine, the Futurist movement represents a striding towards the future. This is accomplished by rejecting all of the past, even going as far as saying that it is harmful. Marinetti instructs his followers to “destroy the museums, libraries, [and] academies of every kind” (Apollonio 22). He explains that it is damaging for an artist to daily visit museums, libraries, and academies, calling them “cemeteries of empty exertion, Calvaries of crucified dreams, registries of aborted beginnings!” (Apollonio 23).
Umberto Boccioni was a follower of Marinetti, and used his ideas to create his own manifesto, Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto, which contains the ideas and objectives manifested in Dynamism of a Soccer Player. The Italian movement represents a celebration of the machine and technology, embracing speed and dynamism. Paintings in this style utilize contrasting complementary colors, triangular patterns, and repeated patterns in order to simulate movement and feverish speed. Boccioni’s work combines many elements of modern art, for instance, the geometric design of the Cubist, Neo-Impressionism pointillist brushstrokes, and vivid coloration. Though the painting does not contain a machine in a technical sense, it is still a work inspired by the writings of Marinetti. Concerning the idea of the beauty of speed, Boccioni is successful in creating a work which has a very quick and dynamic feel to it. He chose a soccer player as his subject, and rather than painting him in the traditional sense, the subject is portrayed in a manner as to show movement and dynamism. Boccioni’s goal was to show the “dynamic sensation itself”, and not simply the “fixed moment in universal dynamism” (Apollonio 27). This is accomplished by painting the figure, especially his leg, numerous times, because “on account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves” (Apollonio 28). The soccer player appears to start out on the right side of the canvas, and then run into the depths of the upper left corner. This feeling is also created by the shapes and colors used. There appears to be a trail of light going into the upper left corner of the painting which gives the impression that the figure is feverishly running off. The triangular shapes surrounding the figure give the painting a cyclical feel, and also give the figure a sense of rapid movement. Boccioni wanted to create this feeling of speed and dynamism, for he believed in the Futurist idea of striding into the future, and not looking back into the past. The shapes within this work give it a Cubist quality, but it contains much more vibrant coloration and sense of movement.
Boccioni created with vibrant and complemetary colors in Dynamism of a Soccer Player. The colors used for the figure and the surrounding areas of purples, blues, reds, greens, yellows, and oranges are appropriate for a painting celebrating the future and technology. They appear to be unnatural and coming from a modern unnatural source of light. In his manifesto, Boccioni delclares that “innate complemetariness” is an absolute necessity in painting and that “the time has passed for our sensations in painting to be whispered. We wish them in the future to sing and re-echo upon our canvases in deafening and triumphant flourishes” (Apollonio 29). The complementary colors used also contribute to the dynamism of the work in a similar way that the juxtaposed complemetaries used by the Impressionists create a flicker and sense of movement.
Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Soccer Player is a work which is an appropriate example of the manifestation of the Futurist ideals proposed by Marinetti. With its appearance of speed, sense of striding toward the future, and aggressive character, this work is the embodiment of Futurism.