Left: Giacomo Balla (Italian, 1871-1958), Velocity of an Automobile (also Automobile Assembly Line), 1913, oil and ink on paper on board, 74 x 104 cm. Private collection
Right: Robert Delaunay (French, 1885 – 1941), Homage to Bleriot, 1914, oil on canvas, 250 x 250 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (Bleriot was the pilot of the first airline flight across the English Channel from Britain to France.)
Futurism and Orphic Cubism
Once Cubism was introduced into the vocabulary of modern art, its effect was immediate as it influenced many dynamic experiments in abstract art. This week, you will read about artists associated with two of the movements that developed as a result of Cubism: Futurism and Orphic Cubism.
All of this artistic experimentation was cut short with the outbreak of World War I, which begins in 1914, embroiling Europe in a cataclysmic conflict where the advancements of the modern industrial age are immediately shown to have devastating consequences.
Italian Futurism develops at the same time as Analytic Cubism around 1907-1911, but with different goals. While Cubism was engaged with conceptual ideas about form and perception in the modern world and then translating these ideas into a formal visual vocabulary, Italian Futurism was politically and culturally engaged with modernizing Italy.
The Italian Futurists extolled the importance of masculinity and technology in an accelerated Cubist variation reliant on faceted forms, short jagged brushstrokes and diagonal lines to reflect the sensation of speed. Their founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who divided his early years between Paris and Milan, published frequent manifestoes that attempted to pull his fellow Italians aggressively and forcefully into the modern era.
In the “Futurist Manifesto,” published on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro in 1909, Marinetti called for the demolition of museums and praised the beauty of industrial speed by describing a roaring car as more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace, one of the most famous sculptures from ancient Greece on view in the Louvre Museum.
READINGS and VIDEOS:
On Khan Academy, you will study most of the material in the section ‘Futurism and the Great War’.
Keep ongoing notes about major ideas, characteristics and goals of the Futurists and about how the various artworks express these goals and ideas visually.
- Begin with the introduction to Futurism:
At the bottom of this essay, click on two of the links to individual artworks in the additional resources section and read their short descriptions. These are:
- Boccioni, Unique Forms in the Continuity of Space sculpture (first link)
- Boccioni, Materia painting (fourth link)
For each artwork, write down a short explanation of how each of these artworks reflects a major goal or idea about Futurism in the artwork.
Read the next two essays and watch one video from the menu on the left side:
- Carlo Carra, Funeral of Anarchist Galli
- Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms in the Continuity of Space
At the bottom of this essay, click on the link to this artwork at the Met (you should have already read the MoMA’s page about this artwork).
- Update your written explanation about this artwork by adding or verifying that you have used the best terms and most descriptive expressions from each of the two short descriptions (MoMA and the Met) to form your explanation of what major goal or idea about Futurism this artwork reflects.
- Boccioni, Dynamism of a Soccer Player
- Think about and write down some of the most persuasive vocabulary words and terms used to discuss this painting if they aren’t already in your notes.
- Read the Met’s essay about the artist Umberto Boccioni: LINK:
WRITING ASSIGNMENT for NEXT CLASS:
Review all of your notes for the central ideas and goals of the Futurists and the keep track of the best vocabulary words and terms that express these ideas.
Now, write a ‘job posting’ or help wanted’ advertisement from the point of view of the Italian Futurists calling for other people to join them. Think about what they valued and what they endorsed. Your ‘job posting’ advertisement should include the best possible choices of words and terms to communicate about them and their ideas and about what they would be looking for in other people who would join their group.
This is a chance to have a little fun. If you want to include images or hand-draw the ad, that is great. If you only want text, that’s fine. Think about how every word and every image should express the ideas of the group in coherent visual form and feature the visual characteristics seen in the artworks of the Futurists.
We will review these Job Postings or Help Wanted ads in our next class to discuss how and what makes each of them successful in terms of conveying the major goals and ideas associated with the Futurists to the reader.
Orphic Cubism refers to several different artists. We will read and watch short videos about Robert and Sonia Delaunay, František Kupka, Fernand Leger (primarily considered a Cubist), and Francis Picabia.
- Read overview about Orphic Cubism on Encyclopedia Brittanica online:
Keep notes on the most important information and concepts.
- Watch Khan Academy’s video on Robert Delaunay’s Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon: LINK: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/early-abstraction/cubism/v/moma-simultaneous-contrasts-sun-moon
- Watch Khan Academy’s video on Fernand Leger’s Contrasts of Forms: LINK: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/early-abstraction/cubism/v/moma-contrast-of-forms
- Read short text about Sonia Delaunay on Tate Museum website: LINK:
Read the following short discussions of Sonia Delaunay, František Kupka and Francis Picabia that focus specifically on the development of these artists’ Orphic Cubist works in terms of their interests in music.
Consider how music helped them find an equivalent in their visual imagery. Remember our discussion of the German Expressionist Vasily Kandinsky and his interest in the connections between abstraction and music?
The artworks referenced in these short essays are all included in the powerpoint for reference.
Born in the Ukraine in 1885 to a bourgeois family, Sonia Terk moved to Germany to study painting and in 1906, settled in Paris, where she met and married the painter Robert Delaunay. In 1911, she made a quilted blanket from small scraps of fabric in an abstract arrangement for their newborn son Charles. Sonia’s believe in craft as not separate from or less important than the fine arts meant she subjected her most humble embroideries and quilts to the same rigorous color theory that she and her husband did in their paintings.
For the Delaunays, the constantly shifting play of light and color in their urban surroundings was the central component of their art. By purifying their images of overtly recognizable forms and focusing solely on this interplay, they were able to evoke the constant dynamism of optical stimulus in the modern city, which they called the ‘law of simultaneous contrasts’ or simultaneity.
The poet and modern art critic Guillaume Apollinaire (who was a close friend of Picasso), became the spokesperson for the Delaunay’s variation of Cubism, calling it Orphism after the ancient Greek hero who was a legendary musician and poet associated with divine and captivating music.
The Bal Bullier was a popular dance-hall located in the Latin Quarter where the Delaunays were regulars. It opened in the 1850s, was rebuilt after sustaining damages during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and outfitted with electric lighting at the turn of the century. When Sonia made her ambitious painting of the dance-hall, the Argentine tango and the American shimmy were especially popular dances. She recalled how “the continuing and undulating rhythm of the tango incited my colors to move.”[i] Dancing couples appear underneath the electric lights with their simplified geometric forms recognizable by the dark colors representing the men’s suits and the colorful overlapping forms of their female partners moving in pairs across the long horizontal canvas inspired by the vast expanse of the club’s dance floor. To fully explore these visual effects, Sonia also made ‘simultaneous’ dresses and waistcoats to wear to the Bal Bullier and later, she made these available for sale in local boutiques.
After Robert’s death in 1941, Sonia continued to explore abstraction in textile designs and clothing sold at fashionable department stores through the 1950s. She devoted many artworks to the subject of jazz explored through the rhythm of color combinations.
The Delaunay’s son Charles grew up to be a jazz devotee who founded the Hot Club de France, with a band that featured gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Charles founded a magazine called Le Jazz Hot with the first edition printed up on the back of a program for a performance by American saxophonist Coleman Hawkins in February 1935.[ii] During World War II, the Hot Club organized concerts to raise money for out of work musicians.
František Kupka was a Czech-born artist who studied in Prague and Vienna, before making Paris his home in 1896. Like Vasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, who also became leading abstract painters, Kupka expressed a philosophical and spiritual belief system with his non-representational imagery. The three artists were adherents of Theosophy, which sought to unite aspects of Western philosophy and Eastern religion to realize a universal harmony or utopian alternative to capitalist dystopia and divisive nationalism through the theosophical belief in a pervasive life force that is manifest specifically in nature and in abstraction.
The painting Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colors, 1912, was Kupka’s breakout painting and arguably the first entirely non-representational artwork to be exhibited in Paris. Kupka selected the title to dissuade viewers from seeking literal subject matter with the interwoven melodies of a musical fugue translated into the abstract relationship between the blue and red repeating circular forms that reflect Kupka’s interest in regeneration. Like Kandinsky, who also relinquished clearly recognizable motifs in his work at this time, Kupka felt that emotions, colors and music had synesthetic correspondences with the rhythm of an abstract composition being as pure and expressive as music in promoting a heightened spiritual state of being.
Later, Kupka’s work changed to encompass machines and mechanization. He harnessed the tempo and energy of hot jazz and big band swing in the 1920s and 1930s, making paintings that reflect the effortless functionality of modern machinery with forms that appear livelier and bouncier than those representing the languid Baroque fugue. Kupka’s paintings Jazz-Hot, no. 1 and Jazz-Hot, no. II, both 1935, reflect his awareness of the hot jazz scene in Montmartre that developed in the 1920s, ‘the Jazz Age’ so-named by American expatriate writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In the 1920s, hot jazz ensembles began featuring improvisatory solos within the larger composition that evoked the choreographed efficiency of machines working in-synch. For Kupka, these improvisatory solos were related to intuition, the key indication of a true artist who contributed something authentic to the pervasive life force that permeates all living things.
Francis Picabia was a leading member of the Parisian avant-garde as well as an international bon vivant with an oversized zest for life. Born in Paris in 1879, he was raised in an affluent bourgeois family. Initially, his work developed in line with the legacy of the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists before Picabia set out to radicalize his work using the vocabulary of Cubism.
Picabia arrived in New York in January 1913 as a participant in the Armory Show, the landmark exhibition that brought modern art to American viewers for the first time. The exhibition featured over 300 artworks by leading European and American artists attracting over 250,000 visitors. Picabia’s wife Gabrielle, a music student when they met, recalled being awed by the city’s suspension bridges, dizzying skyscrapers, bustling traffic and crowded sidewalks. She recalled: “No sooner had we arrived than we became part of a motley international band which turned night into day, conscientious objectors of all nationalities and walks of life living in an inconceivable orgy of sexuality, jazz and alcohol…we believed at first that we had returned to the blessed times of complete freedom of thought and action.”[iii]
It was at this time that Picabia first heard authentic American ragtime music performed live in a club. The music’s effect is seen in a series of small watercolor paintings made in 1913 showing how Picabia successfully interprets the rhythmic sound of the music into an interlocking Cubist vocabulary. In a newspaper interview given that year, Picabia explained how the music and urban stimulus of the city came together in his paintings: “I absorb these impressions. I am in no hurry to put them on canvas. I let them remain in my brain, and then when the spirit of creation is at flood-tide, I improvise my pictures as a musician improvises music.”[iv]
For class next week – summary of the 2 required things to do:
- Read and take notes on Futurism and Orphic Cubism.
- Do the ‘Job Posting’ assignment on the Futurists. Bring it to class for in-class peer review.
Remember / FYI:
The powerpoint is on Blackboard.
[i] Anne Montfort, ed., Sonia Delaunay exhibition catalogue (London: Tate, 2015).
[ii] William A. Shack, Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story between the Great Wars (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2001), 96.
[iii] Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, “Some Memories of Pre-Dada: Picabia and Duchamp” (1949), included in Robert Motherwell, ed., The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, second edition (Cambridge & London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1981), 259.
[iv] Francis Picabia, “How New York Looks To Me,” in New York American, magazine section (March 30, 1913), 11; quoted in William A. Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 48.