Severini, Red Cross Train Passing a village, 1915


As World War I began, modern art began to take shape in European culture. Gino Severini established himself as a predominant Futurist painter. Futurism encouraged war, violence and disorganization. After the affects of Futurism, Europe collectively went into war. Throughout the war and through the analysis of Severini’s Red Cross Train Passing a Village, one can see the effects of Futurism diminished as the destruction of war developed.

A main Futurist idea was that of movement and time. As the title states, this is a train passing through a village. It is evident the train is moving based on the path of the smoke. The smoke is very circular and flows in curves similar to that found in motion. The perspective of the painting is from inside of the train. The village seen is very disoriented and abstract. Movement changes the perception of things and that is how the painting presents the village. There are no distinct planes as the houses are turned and rotated to give no clear indication of order. The train is speeding through manipulating the perspective.

Abstraction is another vital concept to Futurism. Severini has four sets of numbers scattered throughout the painting. One set is on the train, which blends in and has no abstraction, but the other three have contrasting colors to their respective places. The addition of mathematics changes the entire nature of the painting. It adds a level of simple abstraction. There is really no purpose to the numbers, but the mathematical aspect it adds to the mathematical aspect.

The title of the painting is Red Cross Train Passing a Village and the train is clearly marked as a Red Cross Train. World War I was incredibly brutal and dehumanizing. The beauty of the world crippled underneath the violence as seen through the wartime efforts. The movement in the painting is made up of the fracturing of the landscape, showing a sense of urgency. The idea of the Red Cross is one that is associated with medical help and attention. The war required such services to be readily available and effective. This emphasis on the Red Cross, however, begins the analysis of why this painting shifts from Futurism.

However hard Severini tried to remain with his Futurist backgrounds, this also begins his development as an artist away from Futurism. Futurism was mainly a style that emphasized the violence and destruction of war, and this painting shows the consequences of that violence with the Red Cross. It normally developed monochromatically or with the use of very bold, saturated colors whereas this painting uses bright colors with less saturation. It still captures the beauty of the environment while manipulating its orientation. It is evident that the painting is still trying to be Futurist but retain the beauty and realness of the action while also battling the Futurist support of violence.

This painting seems to be the first step in Severini’s venture in the Return to Order. The painting is still very Futurist, but it allows for more development on deeper levels than first looks. Red Cross Train Passing a Village uses the abstraction found in Futurism but maturates the meaning and references in a very un-Futuristic way.

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