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Gino Severini (7 April 1883–26 February 1966), was an Italian painter and a leading member of the Futurist movement. For much of his life he divided his time between Paris and Rome. He was associated with neo-classicism and the “return to order” in the decade after the First World War. During his career he worked in a variety of media, including mosaic and fresco. He showed his work at major exhibitions, including the Rome Quadrennial, and won art prizes from major institutions.
He was invited by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Boccioni to join the Futurist movement and was a co-signatory, with Balla, Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, and Luigi Russolo, of the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters in February 1910 and the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting in April the same year. He was an important link between artists in France and Italy and came into contact with Cubism before his Futurist colleagues. Following a visit to Paris in 1911, the Italian Futurists adopted a sort of Cubism, which gave them a means of analysing energy in paintings and expressing dynamism. Severini helped to organize the first Futurist exhibition outside Italy at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, in February 1912 and participated in subsequent Futurist shows in Europe and the United States. In 1913, he had solo exhibitions at the Marlborough Gallery, London, and Der Sturm, Berlin.
In his autobiography, written many years later, he records that the Futurists were pleased with the response to the exhibition at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, but that influential critics, notably Apollinaire, mocked them for their pretentions, their ignorance of the main currents of modern art and their provincialism. Severini later came to agree with Apollinaire.
Severini was less attracted to the subject of the machine than his fellow Futurists and frequently chose the form of the dancer to express Futurist theories of dynamism in art. He was particularly adept at rendering lively urban scenes, for example in Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin (1912) and The Boulevard (1913). During the First World War he produced some of the finest Futurist war art, notably his Italian Lancers at a Gallop (1915) and Armoured Train (1915).
Plastic Synthesis of the Idea of War, 1915, oil on canvas. Severini did not take part in the fighting but, in 1914 and 1915, he attempted to paint it from the experiences of the French Cubists and the Italian Futurists, of which he was a leading exponent. To description, he preferred the composition of large symbolic ensembles using the juxtaposition of details and words according to the logic of Cubist collage established as of 1912 by Picasso and Braque. Thus the war is defined by adding together the general mobilisation order, a ship’s anchor, an artillery gun carriage, range-finding instruments, an aircraft wing bearing the red, white and blue roundel, a factory chimney and the date of the declaration of war. Significantly, Severini does not introduce, or even allude to, any human presence, preferring to use the working drawings of engineers as the building blocks of his pictorial language. The association between industrial modernity and artistic modernity is obvious. Severini called his aesthetics “ideist realism.”
Severini’s “War Train” creates a sense of chaos and disorder; also a very modern aesthetic. It uses the cubist style to rebel against the norm, making a clean break from renaissance techniques. All the angles and geometry mimic manufactured aesthetic and reflects interest in modern technology and progress. As this train speeds through the country side, the fractured foliage and nature also creates a sense of speed.
Gun in Action, 1915, oil on canvas. There remains one difficulty for the painter to overcome if possible: to add the great noise to the picture and give as complete a rendering of the feeling as he can. In the terms of Cubist “papiers collés”, Severini introduces words and onomatopoeia, edging towards a poem painting. Some of his methods may appear pretty crude, like the “booom” of the blast.
Others attempt to specify the technique itself, “arithmetical perfection”, “geometrical rhythm”, “gradual earthward curve”. The picture is to be read as much as it is to be looked at, especially as the figures of the artillerymen are only sketched in and the gun itself is not shown in any great detail. In 1916, shortly after painting and exhibiting his war pictures, Severini moved away from warlike subjects and what he called “ideist realism”, painting Cubist still lifes instead. One can’t help feeling that this move can be explained, if only partly, in terms of the conviction that painting cannot safely tackle themes that are beyond it. None can suggest the “acrid stench” of the “centrifugal heaviness”, and tracing words on the canvas is not a satisfactory solution either.
The Voices Education Project offers tools, philosophies, and learning methods that will help young people understand the roots of conflict and the trauma of war, confront the pain and fear at the heart of conflict, and help to build healthy human communities in the wake of war. We use the arts and education to transform the consciousness of young people, give teachers and students a way to explore the most important and terrifying issues of our day, and create a dialogue in which all voices can be heard, and all points of view included, without engendering fear, hatred, or anger.