Giacomo Balla: Abstract Movement

By Ellie Giglio

  Italy in the first part of the 20th century was in the grips of the Futurist movement.  The Futurists wanted Italy to become more modern and they created many manifestos to tell people how to update their lifestyles. Giacomo Balla was one of the founding fathers of the Futurist movement.  Balla is best known for his paintings that study how objects movement.  He studied everything from the movements of humans, to the movement of birds, to the movement of the automobile.  Giacomo Balla portrayed the ideals of the Futurism movement through the use of abstract motion in his artwork.

F.T. Marinetti started the Futurist movement when he published the Futurist Manifesto in 1909.  Marinetti wrote the manifesto to revitalize Italy.  His manifesto sparked the publication of many other manifestos about how the people in Italy should dress, paint, and just conduct their daily lives.  Futurists believed in the power of industrialization to make Italy more modern.  They were in awe of the speed of the automobile.  Marinetti started off his Futurist manifesto by telling a story about a joy ride he took in an automobile.  He believed that,

The splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.[1]

This belief was a core belief of the Futurists and was seen in many of the Futurists art works.  The manifesto also says, “ We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.   We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.”[2]  They wanted to destroy museums, because they wanted Italy to move forward to the future and not to live in the past.  They also believed that war would cure Italy and help propel it towards the future.

Many of the Futurists in Italy at the time were moving away from traditional styles of paintings and they were moving towards abstraction.  Giacoma Balla originally started painting to “reproduce reality”[3].  He painted the world the way that he saw it. He wanted to remove the unnecessary noise from an artwork, thereby bringing it closer to abstraction.[4] Balla is introduced to the science of pointillism in Paris and learned how to synthesize light and movement into paintings.[5] He carried the knowledge he learned in Paris through out his years as a Futurist painter. In 1910 he joined the Futurist movement, but he never lost his love of painting reality, he simply made his paintings more abstract.[6] Balla’s idea behind the painting was that everything is always in motion and therefore a painting needs to depict movement. Balla viewed his paintings as “scientific and mathematical as well as artistic.” [7]He studied his subjects for months before he created his finished painting.  He would paint “about ten studies which become increasingly complex until he reaches abstraction.”[8]  He would start with a normal object and then he would blur the lines until the object appeared to be in motion.

In Young Girl Running on a Balcony, he started with a normal image of a girl running and made it more and more abstract, however, it still is clear what the subject is once you look at it for a long enough period of time. Balla shows movement by painting each part of her body to be one specific color, for instance her dress is blue and her shoes are brown, so the viewer can easily follow the movements that the girl makes. Balla was so detailed that the movement of the girl’s braid is visible as it swings back and forth. This painting was important at the time, because Balla was one of the first Futurist painters to experiment with movement in his paintings.

In 1912 Balla painted Rhythms of a Violinist.  This painting was part of Balla’s analytical study on movement.  In one of his letters Balla wrote that motion was “the necessary starting point for the discovery of the lines of abstract speed.”[9] His objective in painting Rhythm of the Violinist was to explore “movement in both its physical reality and optical appearance.”[10] He explores these ideas using just the hand, arm, and violin but he leaves out the rest of the body of the violinist.  His subject matter shows that what Balla was most interested in was not the artist himself, but the way the hand moved as it played the instrument. In this particular painting he used lines to construct the hand of the violinist.  Even at a single instant in time the hand seems to be vibrating, because of the way he blurs the lines. The lines of the painting almost seem to chase one another.[11]  It is this way that he captures the movement of the hand at a single instant.  Then as the hand and the violin move, the lines between the two points of time blur.  It’s almost as if you can see the hand moving from one point in space to another.  As the objects move the colors fade until the hand is almost indistinguishable.  His use of color in this case helps to give the picture the illusion of movement.

Balla also did a series of movement paintings focusing on swallows in flight. He painted almost 20 paintings shows the mechanics of flying swallows. Balla’s series of paintings on swallows show “a well-balanced synthesis of light and motion, space and state of mind, objectivity and subjectivity, elaborated to the point of abstraction.”[12]  Balla starts with a very clear subject, that of swallows flying past a window, and then he creates movement using different painting techniques to make the work abstract.

Like most of the other Futurists Balla was intrigued with the idea of the automobile.  He was especially interested in it, because of his studies into the motion of objects.  He did a series of almost 40 paintings on the speed of the automobile.  His work Abstract Speed + The Automobile Has Passed is described as, “the intersecting straight lines which radiate from the front of the automobile represent the swelling and noise of the engine, while the curved lines and concentric circles given off by the automobile, are intended to give the impression of speed and displacement of air.”[13]  This series of paintings is more abstract than the paintings that came before it.  In this painting, Balla uses his lines to show how the car cuts through the air, but the actual shape of the car is not readily recognizable.  In later works he stopped painting actual objects and started painting abstract “lines of speed”[14]

Balla represented the ideals of Futurism through his use of abstract motion. He was also one of the first artists to explore abstract motion.  His paintings were not meant to be beautiful but they were intended to be studies into how things moved and to how movement could be expressed in a painting.  Over the years he used his paintings to study how objects moved and how his use of light, color, and lines could demonstrate that movement.  His use of movement and the subjects he chose for his studies portrayed the ideals of the Futurist movement.








Baldacci, Paolo;  Top of Form

Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco. Giacomo Balla: abstract Futurism. London:  Finarte. 1995

Balla, Giacomo. Works by Giacomo Balla from 1905 to 1928. New York: Kouros            Gallery, 1986.

Fagiolo dell’Arco, Maurizio. Balla: the Futurist. New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc. 1988

Marinetti, F.T.  , The Futurist Manifesto, 1909



[1] F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto, 1909

[2] F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto, 1909

[3] Paolo Baldacci; Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco. Giacomo Balla: abstract Futurism. (London:  Finarte. 1995)

[4] Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arc. Balla the Blazing Force of Futurism (New York), 7.

[5] Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arc. Balla the Blazing Force of Futurism (New York), 7.

[6] Baldacci pg 64

[7] Baldacci pg 64

[8] Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco,. Balla: the Futurist. (New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc. 1988)

[9] Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco,. Balla: the Futurist. (New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc. 1988)

[10] Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco,. Balla: the Futurist. (New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc.1988)

[11] Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco,. Balla: the Futurist. (New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc. 1988)

[12] Baladicci Pg. 22

[13] Baladicci Pg. 24

[14] Baladicci pg. 24

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