Gino Severini: Transitioning with Time

By Annilin Severns

            Gino Severini began his artistic development as a prominent Futurist. Through the events surrounding the first World War, Severini became one of the artists involved in the Return to Order, or a return to traditional artistic techniques. As the social and historical context shifted throughout the progression of the early twentieth century, Severini transposed his style into something more appropriate while maintaining his subtly charged perspective through other mediums in his art.

Futurism was an idea created to encourage the growing idea of war. By using abstract shapes and sharp colors, artists were able to transform the way art was viewed. No longer was it just something to look at, it now had political meaning and purpose. Futurism strived to put people on edge and create an atmosphere of confusion, anger and discontent with the world in which they lived. “The unifying principle was a passion for speed, power, new machines and technology and a desire to convey the ‘dynamism’ of the modern industrial city”.[1]The desire to be a modern, industrial country not only encouraged artists, but it also encouraged the citizens to embrace Futurism.

Severini was one of the main Futurist artists and developed many paintings. Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin shows the chaos associated with Futurism. At first, the eye does not know where to focus. There are different shapes and lines and colors that do not necessarily flow together. After analyzing, it becomes evident that this embodies the movement and ideas of dancing and socializing. The words “polka” and “valse” are visible—both are types of dancing. There is no clear face of the two people dancing; instead it is broken up and pixilated representing the fluidity of movement.  The brightness of the painting and the “carnival atmosphere” were to remind “that the Futurists’ revolt was against the deadly dullness of the nineteenth-century bourgeois morality.”[2] It overwhelms the viewer by contrasting a common thing (dancing) with the concept of time. Severini uses these ideas to further the development of Futurism. He demonstrates these scientific, mechanical concepts throughout his art during his time in Italy.

Futurism was “conceived precisely as a global ideology of art, called on to play a political role within a more encompassing social transformation.”[3] As a subculture, the Futurist movement did not impact the majority of the European population. However, their platform encouraged the development of World War I. The artists involved gradually began to move away from the Futurist ideology as they began to see the destruction the war created. There was no longer an artistic need for the glorification of war. With the conflicting ideas of past, violence, and present, destruction, a movement emerged as bridging the gap between the two ideologies.

Severini’s Red Cross Train Passing a Village demonstrates the dichotomy of past normalities with new ideas. This painting demonstrates the Futuristic focus of movement with the train and the smoke. It is relatively disoriented, since the focus is from inside the train, which opens a new dimension of perception. The overall nature of the painting is very Futurist, but there are still some contrasting elements that make this painting step away from Futurism as a whole.  The color palette exemplifies bright colors as they manifest themselves into the painting and moves away from traditional Futurist colors. The subject of the painting also strays from Futurism as it shows the destruction. The foothold of the painting is a train rushing to take care of those injured in the war. It negatively shows the impact of the war, which Futurist artist tended to encourage. This painting marks the beginning of the trend away from Futurism. No longer are the artists sure that the ideas of Futurism are what Europe needs, and that uncertain nature proves evident through this painting.

The Return to Order developed after the devastation caused by of World War I. The chaos and charged views that went into art of the Futurist movement was a main contributor to the war ideology. Instead of creating a new way to redevelop the future, the involved artists looked to the past. Traditional images emerged as focuses for painting. Less saturated colors and less abstract ideas emerged. Meanings became hidden behind the traditional and more realistic perspectives being represented in the art. It was a movement to distance the more advanced culture from the culture of the less advanced. The less advanced being the less modernized by machine—eastern Europe. “The conversion of the futurists…involved not only a renewed veneration of the cultural tradition of the past…but also a new iconography of haunting, pointlessly assembled quotidian objects painted with meticulous devotion to representational conventions.”[4] The Return to Order created a platform for which art to develop as it moved away from the chaos associated with Futurism.

Severini’s art during the Return to Order was very traditional and composed. He painted Two Pulcinello and Pierrot the Museum to manipulate the characters into something more. The subjects “can be identified as ciphers of an enforced regression. They serve as emblems for the melancholic infantilism of the avant-garde arts who has come to realize his historical failure.”[5] The character’s “historical failure” parallels to the historical failure of Futurism—a point Severini made to embrace the push for a new stylistic trend. His paintings are more than just beauty, as associated in traditional art, but instead delve further into the realm of interpretation. He painted Maternity which is a take on the traditional pose of the Madonna. The color palate is not vibrant and there is not a lot of visual depth. Instead, the focus is on the deeper meaning behind the brush strokes and behind the beauty—which encompasses the whole idea of the Return to Order. He maintains he conscientious awareness of the changing political role but shadowed such thoughts by the traditional aspect the Return to Order encouraged.

Severini’s strides manifest themselves into the subconscious confliction of right and wrong. The differentiation of styles are not directly “right” or “wrong,” but it is how they relate to Severini that transforms his style of painting throughout the twentieth century. Towards the end of the modern era, however, Severini’s art mirrors that of other artists in the Return to Order—thus showing the changes compared to the chaotic nature of his earlier works.


Works Cited:

Arnason, H. H., and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art: Painting Sculpture     Architecture Photography. 6th ed. Prentice Hall: New York, 2009.

Buchloh, Benjamin H. D. “Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of   Representation in European Painting.” Art World Follies 16 (1981): 45,  

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools and Movements 1860 to the     Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002.

Ottinger, Didier, ed. Futurism. Paris: Centre Pomidou, 2009.

[1] Amy Dempsey, Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools and Movements 1860 to the Present (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002), 88.

[2] H. H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art: Painting Sculpture Architecture Photography. 6th ed. (Prentice Hall: New York, 2009), 214.

[3] Didier Ottinger, ed., Futurism (Paris: Centre Pomidou, 2009), 43.

[4] Benjamin H. D Buchloh, “Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of   Representation in European Painting,” Art World Follies 16 (1981): 45,     


[5] Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 45.

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