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Giacomo Balla
b. 1871, Turin, Italy
d. 1958, Rome, Italy

Giacomo Balla was a founding member of the Futurist movement in painting. Balla had little formal art training, having only briefly attended an academy in Turin. He moved to Rome in his twenties, and as a young artist was greatly influenced by French Neo-Impressionism when he traveled to Paris in 1900. Upon his return to Rome, he adopted the Neo-Impressionist style and imparted it to two younger artists, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. Balla’s early works reflect contemporary French trends, but also hint at his lifelong interest in rendering light and its effects. Balla, Boccioni, and Severini gradually came under the influence of the Milanese poet Filippo Marinetti, who in 1909 launched the Futurist literary movement, which was an attempt to revitalize Italian culture by embracing the power of modern science and technology. In 1910 Balla and other Italian artists published the “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting.”

Unlike most Futurists, Balla was a lyrical painter, unconcerned with violent machinism. Balla’s work does, however, convey an interest in simultaneity, or the rendering of motion by concurrently showing many aspects of a moving object. This practice of capturing a single moment in a series of planes originally derived from Cubism, but was also tied to Balla’s interest in the technology behind photography.

During World War I, Balla composed a series of paintings in which he attempted to convey the impression of movement or velocity through the use of planes of color; these works are perhaps the most abstract of all Futurist paintings. After the war, he remained faithful to the Futurist style long after its other practitioners had abandoned it, and during these years he also explored stage design, graphic design, and even acting. Balla abandoned his lifelong pursuit of near abstraction near the end of his career, and reverted to a more traditional style.